No sick leave puts pressure on part-time employees

Published On: Jan 31 2013 05:41:43 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 31 2013 06:05:18 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

The flu has been a major problem all across the U.S. this year.

One way health experts are trying to stop the spread is to recommend that people stay home if they don't feel well.

But for part-time employees, staying home may not be an option.

Almost 90 percent of restaurant workers say they do not have access to paid sick leave -- that's according to research by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Which means, sick or not, part-time employees have to go to work or risk losing some much-needed cash or even their jobs.

Combine that pressure with a major flu outbreak like this year and it makes stopping the spread even harder.

"You only have four or five scheduled shifts a week and if you miss one -- you're only working five or six hours that day -- you just lose a big chunk of your check and no paid days to get it back," said Brett Gerspach, a part-time cook at two restaurants.

Gerspach says he definitely feels the pressure of not having paid sick days.

"It's up to you to find your replacement. You have to go through the phone lists of the restaurants. Call around to all the different people and see if anyone's available," said Gerspach.

It's a pressure felt by food-service workers across the U.S.

According to a 2011 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 percent of food-service workers surveyed admitted to vomiting or having diarrhea during two or more shifts.

It's one of the reasons the federal Healthy Families Act is expected to be re-introduced this year.

It would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.

In the meantime, Scott Stalter, general manager of the Eagle's Nest in La Crosse, says there are ways to make sure sick employees are able to stay home.

"You've got to start with keeping a well-staffed bar, and then I guess it just comes down to having people available to switch shifts around and work around people that might be ill in any way," said Stalter.

While Gerspach has avoided the flu so far, he's not underestimating the need to protect his customers and himself.

"Thankfully for this winter I avoided getting sick," said Gerspach. "There's a sink within three feet of where I'm working at all times and extra gloves right there, so washing my hands is not a problem."

According to the CDC, 47 states are reporting widespread flu cases.