How COVID did away with the sick day

The tone of the typical isolation postcard is sunny, insistent and aspirational as a holiday greeting: “Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes for @VP,” wrote Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, on Twitter. “She is feeling good and is working from home.”

Like so many Americans, Vice President Kamala Harris got COVID-19 in late April. Like so many Americans, she worked right through it, seated at her desk surrounded by the signifiers of productivity: binders, pens, pastel Post-it notes. Other COVID-positive political figures assured the public they, too, were forging ahead on their to-do lists: Jen Psaki, Gavin Newsom. Donald Trump, when he had COVID-19, posed for his own working-through-it photos, though he appeared to be signing a blank sheet of paper.

In the world’s only wealthy country that does not guarantee paid sick leave, just working through it — even for those who could take paid time off — is the norm.

“I’m trying to work out in my head why I had that thought of, ‘Oh, I’ll work through it,’” said William Fitzgerald, 36, who runs a strategy firm. He got COVID-19 in late April and took meetings throughout his illness. “Why didn’t I just rest for the week?”

Working while sick is an American pastime — one that a vicious pandemic, which sickened millions, somehow didn’t disrupt. Over 100 other countries guarantee some form of paid sick leave. In the United States, a survey of 3,600 hourly workers this spring found that two-thirds of those who had been sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses went to work while sick, according to the Shift Project at Harvard, a research project on work scheduling. Many of them cited fear of getting in trouble with their managers, or financial pressures.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022 - 12:06pm