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Paid sick leave is both health and productivity issue

One of the many issues that has come into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for all workers to have paid sick leave. While this is particularly important to slow the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus, there are many other reasons that society as a whole benefits from ensuring that every employee has paid sick leave.

Unfortunately, I see this need every day in my practice – parents who have to choose between their paycheck and their child’s health. These are hard-working parents who just happen to fall into the half of the state’s working population that does not have paid sick leave through their employer.

We all get sick, and we should all have the ability of taking care of ourselves when we are. Parents especially need paid sick leave so they can stay home and tend to sick children. Many working New Mexicans are also relied upon by extended family for sick care as well. Fortunately, several bills that would require most employers to provide paid sick leave are being considered during the legislative session, with the most comprehensive one being HB 37.

I can understand the hesitancy some employers express about this kind of legislation. Many of my colleagues operate small businesses that often have a razor-thin margin of profitability. But I can’t imagine any one of them wanting staff members to come into the office when they’re sick. As a pediatrician, I see everything from cuts and scrapes to patients with severe immunodeficiency, so we work hard in my office to ensure it is as clean and free of pathogens as possible. The same should be true for restaurants and retail outlets, but unfortunately, food service and retail are two of the industries least likely to provide their employees with paid sick leave.

Studies have shown paid-leave policies can actually be good for a company’s bottom line. When employees receive benefits like paid sick leave, turnover is decreased, which saves on recruitment and training. Aside from the risk of having a sick worker spreading their illness to a customer or other employees when they are forced to come to work sick, they are simply not as productive as when they are well. Paying an employee to stay home one day in order to recover from an illness is better for business than having an employee who’s unhappy and less productive for several days because they haven’t had the rest they need in order to shake their illness. And no employee who cannot be home to care for a sick child is able to put in their best effort at work.

As a pediatrician, I wholeheartedly support HB 20 (Healthy Workplaces Act) and urge the Legislature to pass it to make New Mexico healthier for all.

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Albuquerque Journal seeks stories of our community's pandemic loss

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