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Swine flu hits employers' coffers

November 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The swine flu isn't just taxing the health care system. It's hitting businesses large and small and costing them big money every day.The H1N1 virus is changing the way Tom Anderson does business. He heads an employment agency that staffs companies across the country.

This flu season he's struggling to find healthy temporary workers to fill in for sick employees at client firms.

"This is an unbelievably unique situation. We've been in business now 15 years. I've never seen anything like it," said Anderson.

He and dozens of other business owners are attending the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce's H1N1 briefing.

"It's important that our members stay informed. If they have employees that are sick that they know the symptoms and that they know the signs," said David Eads of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.

"You don't want a sick employee at work because they're going to infect a lot of other people," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

But many small businesses can't afford to pay sick leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 50 million American workers don't receive paid sick days. These employees won't get paid if they don't show up. But Fielding says ill workers reduce productivity and increase absenteeism.

"So it's really important to look at your sick leave policy, if you're not paying for employees to take the time off when they're sick, because it may in fact be costing you more to have them at work," said Fielding.

This week, two California U.S representatives introduced emergency temporary legislation that would guarantee five paid sick days for a worker sent home for a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus.

Many employers aren't thrilled with the bill. Small business consultant Constance Anderson says there are many ways companies can support their workers.

"Look at what you can afford to do, and then make sure that the employee that is sick realizes that you're going to support them while they are out taking care of themselves, and then maybe consider paying that employee a portion of the salary that they would make. There are adjustments that can be made,"said Anderson.

There is another paid sick leave bill that is being held up on Capitol Hill, which is the Healthy Families Act. If passed, this law will guarantee up to seven paid sick days for employees and businesses with 15 or more workers.


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