For the last month, we’ve been asking this question in the green survey box on the right side of our homepage: Would you fire your housekeeper or babysitter if you learned he or she had bed bugs at home? The 36 votes so far aren’t exactly a Nielsen-sized sample. Yet they've accrued in a strikingly consistent pattern, with fewer than a quarter of respondents vowing they wouldn't swing the ax, more than half saying they would, and about a quarter saying they might. (Vote now to see the exact stats.)
The idea that bed bugs could cost 3 out of 4 domestic employees their job is yet another barometer of the city's bed bug anxiety. It's also tragic. After all, lower-income bed bug victims, including the ones who scrub our tubs and the spot behind our children's ears, are most likely to lack the resources to get rid of bed bugs.
Moral and ethical concerns aside, would firing someone for bed bugs would be legal in a formal workplace situation?
The short answer is yes, according to New York City-based employment lawyer and author Steven Mitchell Sack. "So long as you work in a state that has 'at will' employment laws, like New York, an employer can fire you for any reason," says Sack.
In practice, rather than firing a valuable employee over bed bugs (besides being financially questionable, this could have a demoralizing effect on coworkers), many employers ask them to work from home until the situation is resolved and even send exterminators to the employee's home. The first is obviously not an option where housekeepers and babysitters are concerned; the second requires deepish pockets, deeper still if the infestation has already spread into one's own apartment.
So what's the right answer?