Monday, December 22, 2008

The Morality of the Common Cold

How should a moral person behave in regard to sickness? This is not as easy or as simple a question as it may look on the surface. After all a person's response to sickness is not in isolation, but also part of how a society behaves and how well it treats its members. Ideally any person who is sick with an disease that can be transmitted by casual public contact should stay home. Especially if you are in a occupation where you come into contact with large numbers of people. The problem is that often times people in these public high contact jobs are some of the worse paid people in the United States of America or Europe. Worse, in America, many of these retail employees do not get any paid days off and are paid so poorly that any time off would be a financial blow. Easy enough to say, "You must stay home for the sake of others," when you have 10 days of paid sick leave every year and it does not even cut into your few days of vacation time.

I remember when I worked for a bank, thankfully not in a position where I came into contact with the public, and I got 10 days off a year in total. A case of the flu could wipe out any chance of a vacation if I lingered long enough to become completely well before returning. So I did what has become part of American culture and toughed it out whenever I could. Not the best thing for workmates, but what could I do? If I stayed home every time I had a cold or a case of influenza that got past my yearly vaccine I would never have had a single day off to myself. It also meant that I worked one week when there was one of the worst blizzards in Colorado history, staying at a hotel near the office and taking a sleeping bag should things get even worse.

Would the malingering of people not really sick outweigh the number of illnesses avoided if there were more sick days given? I have no idea. I try to do my own part when I have a choice, avoiding going places when I am ill, but I am not always my own master. What should a moral person do? Be willing to give at least half of your own time to help keep others you care about or work with well. So if your job gives you 10 days a year, as I was, be willing to take at least five of them when you are genuinely ill with an infectious disease. If there are more days than that... well that's part of having a good employer and employee relationship. Yet another reason not to shop at Walmart. I'm sure you personally are more likely to get sick if you patronize businesses that have bad sick day policies. I'm sure there are others, but Walmart is the poster child of bad places to work. Don't shop there if you can help it.


Harriet said...

Good points, all of them. I have had to work through illnesses, both contagious and non-spreading. Sometimes it just can't be avoided if you want to keep a job or paycheck. I compromise by trying to keep my germs to myself as much as possible, but it's not easy. Everyone's got a different breaking point, but I'm sure glad that they offered flu shots for us this year.

Anonymous said...

I always resented NCARs "personal time off" scheme as it conflated vacation and sick pay, and would have insisted on working when ill if possible, though I might have suggested working at home, as was practical in my job. I remember the blizzards of 2 years ago...

I know they did it to give the staff more time off, but it did suggest being ill was optional.

As for the moral dimension, you go with the moral framework your employer sets up. If they blame you for being sick, go into the office and disrupt their business