Thursday, September 24, 2009

How capitalism doens't always produce the greatest public good

I was reading article on swine flu this afternoon. One comment after the article caught my attention. It said something like: Why would people go to work sick and send their sick children to school? Hmm, I thought. You are reading this article and writing a comment in the middle of the work day: you must either have a cushy office job, work for yourself or stay at home. Therefore, chances are you wouldn't understand. So let me explain to all those who might have the same question.

Employers in the U.S. are not obligated to provide paid sick leave to their employees. As a matter of fact if employee's sickness or disability results in too many absences or is negatively affecting his/her performance, that employee could be fired. Jobs that pay the least tend to be the ones that give no paid sick time off and part with their workers the easiest; and because these jobs pay so little, people working there tend be the most dependent on every penny they earn and not be able to afford missing a single day of work.

Well paying jobs are not that much better, but for different reasons. Ever missed a critical meeting/deadline/project due to sickness? No? I have. I was out two days during the "critical time" with 103 degree fever. Even though my employer at the time encouraged everyone sick to stay home and provided sufficient paid sick leave, I still got "the look" from the manager upon my return. You know, THAT look that makes you think, "Shoot, I should've crawled in that day just to show them how sick I was. And maybe thrown up for good measure during that important meeting, just for illustrative purposes." THE look that makes you think twice before calling in sick again. THE LOOK that you worry might be the kiss of death.

When it comes to keeping kids home when sick, employers tend to be even less sympathetic. "Couldn't she just get a sitter?" is a common thought or comment. Take my case for example, if I kept my kids home every time they exhibited signs of cold or flu, I would have to keep them home anywhere between 20-80% of the time, especially in winter months, and no employer would put up with that. Add to this whole mess the current state of the economy, when jobs get cut left and right and employers can easily replace you with someone willing to do your job for less and without family dramas, absences count against you, frequent absences (more than once a month) are guaranteed to cause problems.

One might say that people coming to work sick are acting selfishly by thinking only about themselves and paying their own bills, but I would counteract with "isn't that what capitalism is all about? Acting in your own best interest and not worrying about the society as a whole? And thus creating better public good?" In this case everyone is acting in their best interest. Employers protect their profits by not offering paid sick leave, employees protect their money by showing up to work sick and sending their children to school with runny noses. The result, however, is far from the greatest public good: more sick people and the possibility of an epidemic that would be hard to contain if sick people don't stay home.

1 comment:

  1. Fortunately I work from home and wife is federal.


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