Some Hoosiers can’t afford to stay home sick

Some Hoosiers can’t afford to stay home sick as coronavirus spreads, flu deaths rise

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some Hoosiers admitted going to work with fevers, coughs and other symptoms of illness, despite rising flu deaths across Indiana and the state’s first confirmed case of coronavirus announced Friday.

There are no federal or state laws that require private employers to offer workers any amount of paid sick leave in Indiana.

Low-wage workers without paid sick leave often cannot afford to stay home sick.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows up to 1 in 4 workers nationwide are not eligible to earn paid sick leave, according to Erin Macey, a senior policy analyst at the Indiana Institute for Working Families.

“In Indiana, it could be as many as 1 in 3,” Macey said. “If you were a single parent working in a low-wage job, I don’t know what you’d do.”

Sherionna Humphries, an Indianapolis resident who works for a transport and logistics company, does not receive sick pay. 

She has gone to work while too sick to focus on her job, she said.

Humphries has bills to pay and a 2-year-old to feed.

“I understand [private employers in Indiana have the right to establish] unpaid sick time [policies],” she told News 8. “But if there’s something like [a viral outbreak] going on, there should be different guidelines.”

Her coworkers have also gone to work visibly ill due to similar financial pressures, according to Humphries.

She was preparing to leave the company for a new job when she spoke Friday with News 8.

Sam Abram, director of talent acquisition at a recruiting firm on the north side of Indianapolis, has more flexibility with sick leave policies at his job.

“I am working from home; working remotely,” he told News 8. “Especially with the coronavirus scare [and] flu season — just everything that’s going around — it’s a lot safer for everyone.”

His company encouraged all employees to work from home or take time off to recover from illness “because we’re a close-knit group and we would hate to get anyone else sick in the office,” Abrams said.

“Lower wage workers are less likely to earn paid sick leave and that’s a real problem because those are the folks who are caring for children, caring for the elderly, making your food [and] handling transactions at a cash register,” said Macey.

Approximately 30% of U.S. workers earning the lowest 10% of wages had access to paid sick days in March 2019, compared to 93% of workers earning the highest 10% of wages, according to BLS data released in Sept. 2019.

Only 58% of workers in service occupations had access to paid sick leave in March 2019, the data shows.

Humphries sometimes feels like she isn’t even allowed to take an unpaid sick day, she said.

“They didn’t tolerate it much at all,” she told News 8. “You would have to come in and they would have to see you, like, throwing up.”

Members of Congress introduced a bill Friday that would require all employers to allow workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave and immediately provide 14 additional days of paid sick leave during a public health emergency.