Staying home not easy for sick workers

A sick woman sneezes

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Everybody here at Marketplace got an e-mail from human resources the other day. What to do to keep swine flu at bay. Cover our mouths when we cough. Wash our hands a lot. And stay home if we're sick. The president said the same thing during his news conference last night. And a lot of companies have contingency plans in case things get worse. But for some employees, that staying home part could be tricky. From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.


ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Forget first-stage stuff like mandates on washing hands and avoiding your hacking colleagues. Ken McGee of Gartner Research says companies' biggest responsibility is to ensure their most important employees are equipped to work from home. He says that means installing backup Internet broadband.

KEN MCGEE: Because home networks are not designed to carry the kind of traffic burden that would be presented by masses of people having to work from their homes. I mean this is just not another snow day.

Bill White of Sprint/Nextel's communications department says Sprint already has those backup plans in place. And a few more.

BILL WHITE: No travel to Mexico. Uh, we also are looking at other travel restrictions possibly to be put in place. So if we have a large meeting scheduled we're looking at whether or not we need to cancel that, or postpone it or find an alternative way of conducting the meeting so it's not in person.

White says Sprint employees will be able to take time off to look after sick kids and not be penalized. But a lot of workers won't have that option. Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute says only 47 percent of employers allow people paid time off to take care of sick children.

ELLEN GALINSKY: And if you're low income it's just about one in four of you who has access to paid sick time.

She says you may be able to thrash out a marketing plan from home, but you can't make a hotel bed unless you're there. Still, she had a conference call today with 30 big employers, a hotel group among them. All agreed that being flexible was the only way to get through the flu.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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