I know people—some as close as the mirror—who will go to work as long as they have vital signs. America’s so-called “Protestant work ethic” says that takinng off for illness is weakness, and since illness itself is weakness, the least you can do is press on. Furthermore, if you can skip a day, you’re obviously not that important, and who wants to admit that?

For us, today’s New York Times offers some plain advice.

A useful suggestion it is, indeed. Except except except: how many people can take sick days? Half of all workers don’t have paid sick leave, some studies suggest, and there are a hundred and one ways to officially or unofficially encourage employees who do not to take it. Illegal, perhaps, but the vast majority of the time companies will get away with it. Moreover, the employer is perfectly within their rights to require some sort of proof, obtained at the employee’s expense.

Consider, too, the plight of those who don’t get paid when they’re sick and are living paycheck to paycheck, with no cushion. If you miss a day’s pay, somewhere down the line you’re short, and if you miss a day, you risk being told not to bother returning.

So it’s all well and good to suggest that workers take the day off when they’re ill. The changes in the culture, however, have to go further, and reach the people who run the organizations. It is they who can—must—make it possible for sick workers to recover, rather than infect co-workers and customers.

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