For Many, Staying Home Sick Not an Option

A worker at Barrio Foods in Brooklyn, N.Y., where owner Spencer Rothschild sets a timer to remind workers to wash their hands every 30 minutes in an attempt to keep germs to a minimum.
At Barrio Foods in Brooklyn, N.Y., an egg timer goes off every thirty minutes reminding workers to wash their hands.

It's an attempt to keep germs to a minimum because owner Spencer Rothschild says if hourly employees do get sick he cannot afford to pay them while they're away, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

"It's a huge challenge," Rothschild said. "Hugely expensive challenge to put on top of a restaurant, anytime, but especially in the current economy we're in."

He's not alone. Forty-eight percent of Americans working in the private sector have jobs that do not offer paid sick days, mostly small business employees - 54 million in all.

"A week off of work would be really bad, that's like rent," waitress Kara Knoche said.

What's more? A recent survey said 68 percent of workers who aren't eligible for paid sick days admitted they'd gone to work with a contagious illness. Eleven percent said that they had lost a job for taking a sick day for themselves or to care for a family member.

Mary Pappas is a school nurse at St. Francis Prep in Queens, N.Y. She spotted the first case of H1N1 in New York last April. After sending 200 kids home, the school shut down for a week.

"Can you just imagine 100 or maybe 75 of those parents saying, 'you're stuck with them because I can't take off because I don't want to lose my job,'" Pappas said.

Pappas is supporting state legislation that would provide all employees a mandatory five days of paid sick leave. In Washington, Congress is considering a similar law.

Some larger employers are taking steps in that direction. One county in Minnesota is offering its 7,500 employees 20 extra sick days if they make them up the following year. And financial giants CitiGroup and Goldman Sachs have received more than 1,400 vaccines to give to their workers.

But for smaller businesses providing these services can be more difficult. This September more than 9,000 filed for bankruptcy - a 27 percent increase from last year

"There are no easy answers," Rothschild said.

The harsh reality is for some keeping out the flu may also mean closing their doors.