Can you afford to take five to seven days off work because of the flu?

Now that Minnesota is classified as a state where flu is “widespread,” officials are recommending that children age 5 and younger be kept home from school or daycare for seven days after symptoms first appear. Guidelines urge that students stay home for 24 hours after a fever subsides, and that adults stay home from work if they are sick. Can you afford to take five to seven days off work because of the flu?

Fortunately, I’m a nanny, and work through an agency that has advised that we call in sick with flu symptoms so that the families we work with can use an on-call nanny provided by the agency for lesser inconvenience. We’re also told we can call to discuss refusal to care for ill children. -Chelsea Chase, River Falls, WI

No kids here, but no paid time off left either. Sick kids and parents, too, need to stay home. Our company is assuming lots of telecommuting will happen. -Kathleen, St. Louis Park, MN

We have minimum wage jobs and a daughter on the way. Most of my girlfriend’s check is burned up paying for health insurance and mine barely pays for food and other bills. 5 to 7 days off is impossible. -Dave, Minneapolis, MN

I will certainly stay home, even though self-employment means no pay, nobody else deserves getting ill because of my selfish greed. -Roger, Cambridge, MN

Share your reply in the comments: Can you afford to take five to seven days off work because of the flu?

  • Rodney

    This is America. We cant afford to get sick.

  • Julie in Oakdale

    Between me and my husband, we could manage to take that much time off. We both work for large employers and wouldn’t be missed for a few days each.

  • Amanda in Elk River

    Fortunately, between my Husband and I and the good fortune of being allowed to work from home when need be, we could probably afford to take the time off. Let’s hope we don’t have to find out, though!

  • Sarah S

    I value my vacation time way too much to use a week on being sick. I’ll take 1-3 days off, but that’s it. The U.S. has its priorities mixed-up and even those of us with “employee-friendly” companies don’t get nearly as much vacation as they do in Europe. When are we going to stop working and start living?!

  • Mike

    My wife and I both have company policies that mete out disciplinary action when you take too many sick days. We simply cannot run the risk of losing our jobs if our son gets the flu. I don’t know what we’ll do if he does get sick.

  • Lynn

    This is precisely why employers need to pay their employees sick pay (and schools need to reevaluate their attendance policies). It costs employers MUCH more if contagious employees spread flu to coworkers. There’s lots of talk of sanitizers and handwashing where I work. But that doesn’t stop the flu. People must do the right thing–stay home.

  • Sarah M in Minneapolis

    My company has instructed us to not come to work if we get sick, to stay home as long as a doctor advises, and to frequently wash our hands. Unfortunately, it appears that will either come out of our vacation time, or be unpaid time off. We’re also a young company, with dozens of brand new mothers and half or more employees with school-age children at home. We don’t seem to have a game plan if someone’s child gets sick, and in the past when schools are closed a lot of folks have to bring their kids to work. If the school was closed for infection…

  • Michelle

    Thankfully (?), due to loss of income, I will be able to if my kids or I get ill. When did our country stop thinking about the greater good? If you’re sick you must stay out of the workplace, school, grocery store, anywhere that is a racecourse for transmission. Companies need to understand the need to stay home to recover, but in the end, individuals have to do what is right.

  • Aaron

    Fortunately for me, I work from home. So if necessary, I can continue to work while sick without risking infecting anyone else.

  • Alva Crom

    The answer is no. My company only gives us 2 sick days a year. I already used up my 2 weeks of vacation.

  • Linda

    I am relieved that most of the answers here are ‘yes’. You could also title the question “Do you take personal responsibility?” The people that said they couldn’t ‘afford to’ and the companies that encourage this by not allowing sick time are simply shifting costs.

    The money/time/resource saved by the person or company who does not take time off, is simply shifted to the individual(s) they have infected. And while one case may be mild and ‘not bad enough to stay home’, that individual needs to consider that they just gave the H1N1 flu to someone at high risk – a pregnant mother who could end up at the hospital or dead.

    For those blaming their company or policies — man up and take personal responsibility. Sure, what the company does is wrong, but that doesn’t mean you should follow their example.

  • Steve

    Absolutely not. Even though both my workplace and school spread the announcement of the 7-day “suggestion”, their respective policies do not accommodate for it. Missing two days of work would lead to termination, and some my college professors fail students after five missed classes without exception.

  • Abby L.

    I only get three days of sick pay for the year and I’ve already used them. I can’t afford to take days off with no pay. On the plus side I don’t have any kids, but if I were to get sick I would be in some trouble.

  • kennedy

    I agree that this is about personal responsibility. Several individuals said that they would essentially save their vacation time for their own personal use and instead carry a virus into the office.

    It is irresponsible and selfish to risk someone elses health for your own benefit.

    I could take the time off if necessary.

  • Tanya

    Likely to be adopted by child care providers concerned about being reactive rather than proactive, this recommendation feels detached from practicality. Universally applied recommendations, aren’t negotiable and leave no room for individual situations.

    If my kid’s truly sick, I get it- we’ll stay home. If my kid’s not, don’t make me and him stay away from day care and work for 7 days. So, whether my kid has the seasonal flu, H1N1, or other ailment, I’ll have to be out-of-work for 7 days, my work left uncompleted, and my employer unable to benefit from my presence or my work. Nice- and our economic recovery is dependent on productivity.

  • Phillip K. Peterson, MD

    I would be surprised if many MPR listeners (American audience) would be provided coverage by their employers to take 5-7 days off work to care for their sick children or for that matter for themselves. Also, I would be equally surprised if many American listeners know that 160 countries in the world do provide such coverage. See the New York Times Editorial “The Cost of Staying Home Sick” May 5, 2009.

  • Brian

    My wife and I are able to work from home if necessary, so we would could take the time off.

  • Anita

    I do not have children, so that part doesn’t matter for me.

    Financially – it would be a huge stretch for me to take off 5-7 days for the flu. Technically, employment is terminated after 6 sick days in a year. I have exhausted this already from last winter’s cold and a sinus infection this summer. Although an official policy change hasn’t been announced, I am sure my work would be flexible in the event of needing more sick days. I have already used my PTO for the year, which we have been required to use up completely, and early, or we will lose it at the end of the year (and they don’t want everyone using their vacation in December.)

    However – it’s not worth risking the public, whom I deal with daily at my job, so I will have to take it off if I get sick. If this is the case, we’ll just have to figure it out.

  • Melissa B

    Yes, I just was out M-F this week! Thank goodness for built up sick days and for the teacher’s union that helped to ensure their existence. I have had a fever since Sunday with flu-like symptoms. It was very difficult to be gone this long from my classroom, but of all places to practice strong flu containment, schools are one of the most important. I also have a self-employed partner whose flexible schedule allowed me to stay out of other realms of society in the care of our children.

    I know, though, how lucky and rare my situation is. I think it is naive to say that staying home is only about personal responsibility. That may be true for the privileged few of us who have the paid sick days or the extra income to absorb the loss of pay for unpaid sick days. The number of people out there that have the chance of being fired from their job for being responsible and staying home when sick is SHOCKING. Others might risk not having the money to keep their apartment or food for the month if they don’t go to work. Then the personal ethics line gets quite blurry. We need a more ethical employment system that supports people in making the right choice.

    This is another example of how our health care reform needs to be connected to other reforms in the employment arena. Otherwise we are making it more likely that epidemics, like the flu, will easily spread because people feel they have to go to work or that they can’t keep their children out of school unsupervised.

  • Allan

    Staying home does not always mean being off work. Telecomuting via Internet makes being away from work, but still being able to work possible.

    We are planning for up to 50% of our staff being off due to H1N1 and telework is the way we can work around it.

  • Josh Whitney-Wise

    40% of Minnesotans have no paid sick days. Most of those workers handle food in some capacity. That’s why we need the Healthy Families, Healthy Communities Act that guarantees a minimum number of paid sick days so that we can all care for our kids when they get swine flu!

  • Carole in Stillwater

    Fortunately, I have no kids at home. I am hoping this helps reduce my chance of H1N1 infection. Also, I am in the older age group that may have some immunity. If I do get the flu, either type, I would be expected to stay home from work to prevent transmission to everyone else in the small company I work for. I can do about 95% of my work at home and can continue to work via e-mail, telephone and fax. I do get a ‘normal’ flu shot every year and will soon this year as well as the N1H1 vaccination when available.

  • Al

    Fortunately I have a good job with outstanding benefits, flexible supervisors who would let me come in nights to make up some of my work, and a mother-in-law who is a saint. We would make it. After all, we did it a few years ago during the baby stage, which was any un-ending string of ear infections.

  • Alison

    I’ll be fine, but I’m concerned about the poor who are working in low-paying jobs. Usually they have few or no sick days and risk being let go if they miss work for any reason.

  • AJ

    Thankfully, I have plenty of vacation/sick time available to use if necessary. However, my husband and I are also very lucky in that we have jobs that would allow us to telecommute if we couldn’t get to the office due to ourselves or our child becoming ill.

  • Ginger

    I’ve been asking around about sick leave policies at the restaurants I frequent. I no longer go to the ones with no paid sick time for employees. It is simply too dangerous to eat at any place that forces their employees to come in sick.

  • Faye

    My husband’s income is the supporting income of our family. Since he is a blue-collar worker, working from home is impossible. His job offers no sick leave.

  • brad

    I’ve got some time built up and a laptop with VPN into work. I’d be OK. It would be tougher on my wife, she is fairly new at her job and I’m not sure how much sick time she has.

  • F.C.

    The richest country on Earth not only reuses to care for [all] it’s people when they get sick, in most cases when they do get sick they lose their jobs too. Long Live Socialism, Long Live the Revolution.