Why Americans and Hilary Clinton can't be sick

  | James Innes

Hillary Clinton’s recent collapse and subsequent revelations about her ill-health have made headlines around the world. Yet in turning up to the 9/11 commemoration event, Mrs Clinton did what millions of her fellow countrymen and women do every day – go to work when they are sick.

According to LeeAnne DeRigne, associate professor of social work at Florida Atlantic University "No one's allowed to be sick. Sickness is weakness.”

"The attitude is 'I'm irreplaceable - if I don't show up my job won't get done.'

Whilst in part, this is because an employee who has too many sick days is viewed as unreliable, it is also a matter of legislation. America is the only developed nation that, by law, does not guarantee sick leave.

Whilst the Family and Medical Leave Act – ironically introduced by Hillary’s husband Bill when he was President in 1992 – allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks off for illness or to have a baby without losing their job, and whilst many companies include a few days’ sick leave as part of the employment package, for millions of lowly-paid workers the choice is stark.

Turn up to work or you don’t get paid.

Compared to Americans, their European counterparts are much more generously treated.  In the Netherlands, for example, workers can be absent for up to two years, while receiving 70% of their salary. Even in the UK, which offers the least generous sick leave in the EU, workers get a statutory flat rate of £88 a week for 28 weeks, with private employers often providing more extended cover.

Furthermore, Europeans get more paid leave, with 25 days’ paid leave on offer in Sweden, Denmark, and France, plus public holidays (in the case of Spain there are 14 of these a year!).

According to the pressure group Family Values at Work, which campaigns for paid leave, nearly a quarter of US adults have been fired or threatened with the dismissal for taking time off work for illness or to care for a sick family member.              

However, even when they are entitled to paid sick leave, many people choose not to take it because of the risk that they will be viewed as a slacker. A survey by public health agency NSF in 2014 found that 1 in 4 of workers always go to work when they are ill.

Americans regard themselves are being hard workers, and there is an implicit understanding in many workplaces that employees will put in more hours than is stated on their employment contract. To take time off to be sick very much goes against these cultural norms.

That is not to say the most Americans are not in favour of paid sick leave – polls suggest most would favour the introduction of some sort of legislation. However, progress towards it has been slow. While some states, such as New York and California, have passed their own laws to allow some form of paid leave, nationally there is some way to go, as was evidenced by the stiff opposition from Capitol Hill which met the Obama’s administration’s attempts to back paid leave.

Although Donald Trump has yet to comment, the Republican Party argues such legislation would hurt small businesses and lead to job losses. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has promised to introduce 12 weeks’ paid family and sick leave if she wins the election.

This is another strong reason why she will want to capture the White House in November. Then she can introduce the legislation which will allow her to take a few days’ off, the next time she gets sick!

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