When I think of Labor Day I remember the working class heroes who have built our society and have won so many of the rights we enjoy: paid holidays, overtime compensation, child labor laws and the ability to come together as a voice for fairness.
Today I read that President Obama passed a measure for seven paid sick days for federal employees.
This shows there is still much work to be done to ensure fair practice that protect workers from harm. It seems ludicrous for someone to go to work sick because they can’t afford to take a day off thereby, infecting everyone else at their job.
What about nurses? I know many, myself included, who work or have worked when they were sick because there weren’t enough co-workers to cover the shift.
Everywhere I look, hospitals aren’t hiring enough nurses. Hospitals depend on nurses to work overtime to cover unfilled nursing positions because , ironically, it’s too expensive to pay for employee healthcare benefits.
Nurses work hard and need time off to recover from the demands of our job. It has become the nurses code of honor to work extra shifts to provide respite for each other. Yet, this unspoken rule spreads the work pool too thin to cover sick leave, especially for minor ailments like colds. So it has become prevalent for bedside nurses to work even while sick .
Managers try to deter this behavior by scheduling nurses weeks in advance to prepare for slim weekend and holiday coverage. Yet, because a hospital census can be so unpredictable, there are always circumstances where shifts need to be rearranged to balance the experienced nurses with new nurses to provide mentorship and optimal care for the patients. No one knows better than a nurse that short staffing puts patients in jeopardy making it a real guilt trip to call in sick.
This holiday, I am taking a moment to recognize the nurses’ responsibility to ensure fair work practices that protect others from unnecessary exposure to sick workers. We didn’t cause this nursing shortage, we didn’t create the uncertainty of situations that demand we adjust our schedules, but we can cure this dilemma.
Nurses can change the unrealistic expectations we put upon ourselves and our profession by sharing the awareness that we must advocate for our own health first. While it seems a brave and admirable sacrifice to work while mildly ill we are exposing these germs to other people’s immune systems that may cause a life threatening situation.
Sure, we can pass more laws to ensure worker and public safety but it’s faster and cheaper to create a healthy work culture. To start, I must walk my talk and present myself as fit to do a good job. Instead of manipulating a co-workers by demanding that they defend a sick call, I have started creating a culture that protects and encourages nurses to be strong and healthy by saying, “I hope you feel better.”