Puyallups may alter rule that requires sick employees to work

TACOMA — Concerns about the spread of flu have the Puyallup Tribe reconsidering an unpopular worker-attendance rule at its casinos.

Workers at the two Emerald Queen Casinos have been required by management to show up on the busiest days even when they are sick. The policy prevents having a shortage of workers, but counters advice of health officials.

Tribal spokesman John Weymer told The News Tribune of Tacoma that casino managers are aware of the potential problem for illness to easily spread and is considering a policy change.

“The management of the Emerald Queen Casino takes the health and welfare of its workers and patrons very seriously,” Weymer said last week. “The policy that’s in place right now is under review.”

The casino’s attendance policy applies on “block days,” when the casino is busiest. All holidays, Fridays and weekends are classified as block days.

With about 2,000 employees, the Emerald Queen is the fourth-largest private employer in Pierce County.

Casino workers say calling in sick on a block day equals a one-day suspension without pay. A second occurrence is a three-day suspension; a third results in five days and a fourth time means job termination.

Marilyn Scott, the head of the American Indian Health Commission for Washington State and chairwoman of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, said the Emerald Queen’s attendance policy is not unusual among tribal casinos.

The commission is attempting to persuade tribes to relax policies with the flu concerns, Scott said.

“The commission has put out recommendations to all 20 of the tribes that are members, suggesting that they review their attendance requirements as they relate to swine flu,” she said.

She also noted that each tribe is sovereign and establishes its own policies. The Health Commission has no authority over them.

Scott said modifying the policies is important not only to protect patrons but to protect the casinos’ work force.

“At some point, they may have to just close if they have numerous employees that are sick,” Scott said.

Also, she said, “Employees need to feel safe that they won’t lose their jobs if they are sick.”

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