Shared from the 3/4/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

EDITORIAL

Sick laws

Don’t force ill employees to show up.

Elizabeth Taft knew she was sick. She was running back and forth to the bathroom at work, clothes drenched in sweat and had to be told by her manager to change her vomit-stained shirt. Taft eventually went outside to take a break, and that’s where she was found more or less unconscious by an employee of the Pizza Hut next door.

So why didn’t the Freeport woman go home sick?

“I knew that if I had left work, I would have lost my job,” Taft told Channel 2 KPRC.

That explanation may seem cruel, but it is reality for too many Texans. Our state doesn’t guarantee that workers get sick leave. So instead, Taft stayed at work until she collapsed.

That’s not fair to her, or to anyone else. But here’s a part of her story that should make us all queasy: Taft’s job is at a Subway sandwich shop.

“I was touching everybody’s sandwiches,” she said. “I’m like ‘this ain’t right.’ ”

As Texas grapples with the spread of measles, deadly flu strains and everyday stomach bugs like Taft’s, it should be common sense that workers — especially food service workers — be allowed to stay at home if they’re feeling under the weather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as much. Unfortunately, for roughly 40 percent of Texas workers, staying home while sick means forgoing pay or even risk being fired.

That’s one reason cities like Austin and San Antonio passed laws guaranteeing that workers at private companies be allowed to accrue paid sick leave.

This being Texas, a place where “labor law” might as well be a four-letter word, an appellate court quickly struck down Austin’s ordinance. The reasoning — which strains credulity — is that guaranteeing paid time off effectively raises one’s wages and thus infringes on the state’s right to set a minimum wage.

Now the state Legislature, with Gov. Greg Abbott’s blustery support, is debating a bill that would explicitly prohibit local governments from requiring paid sick leave — no need for creative court rulings.

It can be easy to forget in a state that proudly touts itself as pro-business, but we need laws crafted to guarantee a minimum sense of personal dignity — to ensure that corporate profit can’t come at the expense of human welfare.

Over the decades this has been expressed through inventions like the 40-hour workweek, a prohibition on child labor, safety codes, a minimum wage, sexual harassment laws and, yes, the weekend itself.

Those laws are good for people and that’s the whole point.

They also help give businesses something they always need: a healthy and secure workforce. Until Texas allows paid sick leave laws, too many Texans will have to choose between showing up to work with a stomach bug or losing their jobs — and that’s not good for anybody.

See this article in the e-Edition Here