skip to Main Content

Free Form Friday | 1 | Time to end COVID sick leave? Am I taking crazy pills???

Note: This is the first in what I intend to be a permanent Friday feature of non-Bowie related posts. We’ll see how long that lasts

Doesn’t it seem to you that a lot of people have COVID? Since some of those people are media personalities, I am pretty sure it’s not just me. Its also not just me who continues to wear a KN95 mask, avoids crowds and takes other precautions to avoid getting the disease that has already killed more than double the number of Americans as died in World War 2, but I increasingly feel the stares of people looking at my mask as if we were living in 2018.

So it was with bewilderment that I recently read a story in my local paper, The Times Union, titled, “Pandemic fades, but COVID sick days still an issue” (click on the title to link to the story). The premise of the story is that businesses are complaining that New York continues to require them to provide employees an additional five paid sick days…if they have COVID. This, to the businesses featured in the story, is a problem.

The logical inconsistency should be immediately apparent. If the pandemic is fading, why should COVID-specific paid sick days be a problem? If nobody is getting COVID, nobody can use the sick days. If people are getting COVID, why in the world would a business want to incentivize employees to show up sick?

But in an unintentionally ironic example provided in the article, people employees from at least one business seem to prove that COVID remains an active threat:

At one unnamed business with 330 employees, for example, 219 people took COVID leave in 2022. Of that, 188 were paid under the COVID provision (some others were COVID-related time off, such as taking days under the Family Leave Act to care for loved ones with COVID). But many had multiple COVID bouts. Overall, they paid for 9,628 hours of COVID time in addition to their usual sick time, which totaled more than $227,000.”

OK, the example uses stats from last year, but what’s missing is any evidence that this year is any different.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to pay for their employees to take sick leave, but shouldn’t the more immediate concern be about governments’ (on all levels) retreat from taking any steps whatsoever to reduce the spread of COVID in the first place? Shouldn’t these businesses be pushing for educational campaigns about how to properly wear the right kind of mask, and for government programs to distribute those masks, and for that matter government mandates to wear those masks, get the latest vaccine and maybe show a vaccine card to enter the business in the first place?

I understand that everything I just mentioned above is politically, well, I guess they are all politically untenable, but have the politics of such measures blinded business owners from seeing the cost to them?

Earlier in the year I noticed in the Fed’s March Monetary policy report (click to link) that both COVID and long COVID are partially responsible for the nation’s labor force recovery (which is to say, then problem businesses have been having in having enough people to do all the work): “…many workers are still out of work because they are sick with COvID or continue to suffer lingering symptoms from previous COvID infections (“long COvID”), and their illness is likely depressing participation…”

While the Fed’s next report, from June, mentioned that the “labor market continues to be very tight,” there was no mention of COVID and long COVID as being part of the reason for that. Has the Fed, like the businesses in the Times Union story, just decided to pretend none of this is happening? You’d think if the situation changed for the better, there would at least be an update telling us that?

But no, instead it seems like we’re all just adopting a line of thinking similar to that of Donald “If you don’t test, the numbers won’t go up” Trump. But meanwhile, on a business-by-business basis, the continuing cost in terms of productivity can’t be explained away because of New York’s sick day policy.

And why we’re even talking about this ahead of the fact that people are still dying of COVID, is baffling to me. Death shouldn’t be the bar— the death rate has surely gone down due to vaccination and enhanced immunity, but to the extent people are thinking about COVID at all, most people seem to think it has become no different than a common cold, and rather than learn from the pandemic what steps can be taken to avoid even getting a cold (I haven’t had one since 2019), most people seem to simply not care.

Well, businesses should care. If the cost of lost productivity isn’t vivid enough, I suppose the cost of paid COVID-specific sick days can serve as a stand-in. But these businesses shouldn’t be lobbying government to get rid of the sick days— they should be lobbying for government to get rid of COVID. Or at least help stop the spread…

Back To Top