It’s no surprise workers are feeling the burden of the omicron surge as more and more coworkers call out sick with COVID. But what was surprising to UC San Francisco sociology professor Kirsten Harknett was that two-thirds of service workers surveyed -- months before the latest surge -- chose to go to work while ill.
“This is very prevalent,” Harknett said. “Unfortunately, those workers are not alone.”
The SHIFT Project spoke with 6,000 workers nationwide in the Fall – many from California.
Most made the decision to work while sick because they didn’t have enough paid sick time, didn’t want to leave their coworkers in a lurch, or the most concerning: pressure from management.
“Even saying, ‘I had COVID symptoms,’ but my manager said, ‘Too bad, we need you to come in,'” Harknett said. “Stories like that are really, are very shocking and unfortunately, that’s just our reality.”
It’s a reality San Diego County Union President Todd Walters is trying to combat.
“We've been watching closely within the industry to make sure we don't have any bad players that are trying to force workers to come to work when they are sick,” Walters Said. “It's a very busy crazy time for all of us right now.”
But there’s hope on the horizon. Just this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal with legislative leaders to restore up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave.
It’s important to highlight, many service workers are economically insecure and cannot afford to miss a day's pay or jeopardize their jobs. So, when faced with the choice to go to work or forgo pay, they often choose to work sick.
“It's not good for a worker to have to work sick. But if we think about how many people go to the grocery store, go to a restaurant, go to Walmart or Target; just all the people passing through are put at risk by these types of practices,” Harknett said.
Once signed into law, the state's supplemental paid sick leave will be restored through September 30.