Coronavirus may completely change how America approaches time off from work

Americans are some of the hardest working people in the world and corporate culture encourages a 24/7 work schedule. But could the inevitable onset of Coronavirus in the US completely change how we approach taking time off from work?  And could that actually be a good thing?

For centuries, the US has been a place that people from all over the world travel and immigrate to in pursuit of a better life and more opportunities. Countless immigrants have arrived in America with nothing to their name but the clothes on their back, and through hard work built themselves up into yet another US success story. Of course, success doesn’t come easy and just like anywhere else, it takes dedication and commitment to one’s craft to make it in America. 

Perhaps the fact that hard work has been a longstanding pillar of the American way of life plays a part in why modern U.S. workers take far fewer days off than virtually any other developed nation in the world. In fact, the US is the only advanced economy on the planet that doesn’t guarantee workers a paid vacation or time off from holidays. France, Canada, Australia, Japan, the list goes on and on — all other developed countries federally mandate employers to provide vacation time. 

Now, plenty of Americans still get to take vacations, but a large number aren’t afforded that luxury. Consider this statistic for a moment: According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a staggering one in four working Americans don’t receive any paid vacations or holidays.

It’s not just vacationing either. A disturbingly high number of Americans feel as though they can’t even skip a day of work due to illness. A recent survey of 2,000 Americans taken just this past fall found that 78% admitted they feel pressured to report for work even when under the weather. An even more telling statistic from that poll was the revelation that 42% feel stressed out when they have to miss just one day of work due to sickness. These numbers are indicative of a larger work culture problem in the United States; no one should feel guilty about coming down with a cold.

A Cornell Study conducted in 2016 estimated that 45% of the American workforce is offered no paid sick days. That’s 50 million people who can’t financially afford to stop working in the event of sickness. The cold-hearted among us may simply suggest that those people should find positions with better benefits, but that’s hardly a solution to a problem that’s affecting millions of hard-working Americans. These are jobs that have to be filled, which invariably means there will be people sacrificing their own health for the sake of making money.

It’s a concept that the wealthy struggle to understand, but the fact remains that millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. At any given point in time, that type of arrangement is bound to cause stress, but once a lack of paid sick leave is factored in, it can become an overwhelming burden. Another piece of research conducted at Florida Atlantic University found a direct connection between a worker being offered no paid sick leave and subsequent financial worry.  

“For Americans who are working without paid sick leave, a day lost can translate into lost wages or even place their employment in jeopardy. This contributes to the shaky financial situation in which many families already find themselves,” comments the author of that study, LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., an associate professor at FAU.

So, what does all of this have to do with the latest global health scare: Coronavirus that first reared its viral head in Wuhan, China? 

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, or maybe just stuck at your office due to no available time off, you’ve heard all about the new coronavirus. The deadly virus has dominated headlines since January, and in true modern fashion, misinformation online regarding the virus and its potential global implications have been widespread. 

Many have made the novel coronavirus out to be an apocalyptic force out of a horror movie. The outlook isn’t quite that bleak, but there’s no denying the coronavirus is a serious health issue, and as the month of February has rolled on it’s clearer than ever that it is slowly but surely spreading on a global scale. 

The news reports have been repeated ad nauseam, but just in case you haven’t heard, the virus is starting to spread at a troubling rate across Europe. Infections have been reported in Italy, Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as other parts of the world like Iran. The virus is already having a detrimental effect on the world’s financial equilibrium, with global stocks seeing big drops.

Historically, the US has always benefited from its secluded geographic location. Similarly, the coronavirus has been slow to infiltrate the US, but the CDC just recently made an ominous announcement that it really isn’t a question of if the virus will hit the U.S. population significantly, but when. 

So, the unavoidable reality both American employers and employees are suddenly faced with is the imminent arrival of a very dangerous, very contagious new virus. Doesn’t sound like a good time to be an employee with no paid sick leave, does it? 

If workers all over the country wake up today or tomorrow feeling sick, it’s now more important than ever that they feel as though they have the ability to take a day off. Many bosses and employers tend to act like their company will fall apart if an employee calls in sick, but the productivity lost from a few people taking some time off pales in comparison to the disastrous effects a companywide coronavirus infection could cause. 

China, the virus’ epicenter, is already utilizing remote work to a great extent to mitigate the outbreak’s negative economic effects. In the event of U.S. office quarantines, there’s little doubt that American companies will turn to remote work as well. At a certain point, though, American workers dealing with a coronavirus diagnosis are going to have to put their professional responsibilities aside. 

If there was ever a time to grant hard-working Americans a few real, not just remotely working, sick days off, isn’t a legitimately terrifying new virus outbreak the time to take such an approach?

Even noted workaholic Tom Cruise is taking some precautionary time off because of the coronavirus. If there is even the slightest chance American workers have contracted the virus themselves, and are contagious, they should be able to days off from work and actually spend that time recovering, not responding to work emails in bed.