Jobs and Germs

By: Uyen Tran, Gustavo Servin-Maciel, Madelene Portillo, Emily Niday, Katelyn Schmit

Employee health is an important asset in the American workforce. Without healthy
workers, the United States economy would plummet. This study explores the possibility of a correlation between company health policies and their effects on employees’ health and work environments in Omaha, NE. This study will use secondary data from the Omaha company websites and Omaha company handbooks. Specifically, the data collected will look into different companies’ health policies and the possible effects these might have on employees’ health and work environments in Omaha. Five themes submerged in the total data gathered: paid sick leave, FMLA, health care plans, employee benefits, and occupation. These five themes, using secondary data, scholarly articles, and notes from a sociology textbook, link together the sociological relationship between company health policies and their effects on employee health and work environment in Omaha.

In this study, the secondary data specific to Omaha was gathered online on company
websites or directly out of company employee handbooks. Information gathered from these sources were company health policies, health care plans, sick leave policies, FMLA, employee benefits, and the number of employees in Omaha. Employee handbooks used for secondary data was the company’s most recent edited version for the purpose of having the most up-to-date information about these companies and their policies. Data was collected in this way and first organized into the nine different companies. Orientating memos were written by splitting the nine companies up into different job sectors of the workforce such as fast food restaurants, schools, corporate companies, and service industries. Out of these orientating memos, five themes of paid sick leave, FMLA, health care plans, employee benefits, and occupation were found. A table was then created to sort the secondary data from all the companies using these five themes by each group member. The entire data set was coded shortly after. Finally, an
overall group findings table was generated by incorporating all findings tables together.

Paid Sick Leave

Sectors of Occupations                 Description
Primary Sector Production and retrieval of raw material from Earth

Ex: Mining, Fishing, Agriculture

Secondary Sector Transformation of raw materials to produce finished goods, Blue collar workers

Ex: Manufacturing, Metalworking, Engineering Industries

Tertiary Sector Known as the service industry and sells products made from the secondary sector

Ex: Retail, Insurance, Banking

Quaternary Sector Intellectual activities related to knowledge and involved with technological innovation

Ex: Government, Education, Information Technology

Quinary Sector Creation of services, Highest level of decision-making including evaluations of new technologies

Ex: Research scientists, Government Officials


When analyzing the secondary data found on paid sick leave, there are three main themes that are evident. Paid sick leave is provided to some employees at companies in Omaha, including Omaha Public Schools and Berkshire Hathaway. Some companies, such as Greater Omaha Packing do not allow employees to have access to paid sick leave but do have access to FMLA. In terms of companies that do allow employees to have access to paid sick leave, the access to paid sick leave is determined by the amount of time that they’ve worked there. This is one of the themes that presented itself in the secondary data. Mutual of Omaha’s leave policy grants new employees personal time off after 4 months of their initial start date (Mutual of Omaha). Bellevue Public Schools’ leave policy, employees receive half a day per month of paid time off the first year if employment. After this first year, employees receive one day per month (Bellevue Public Schools).

Paid Sick Leave


There are differences in the paid leave availability in terms of the different sectors of
occupations. From the data, occupations that are in the primary and secondary sectors of
occupations do not have immediate access to paid sick leave. Occupations found in the primary and secondary sectors are also low-income occupations, compared to high-income jobs that are found in the quaternary and quinary sectors. With low-income jobs, it’s expected that the socioeconomic status of employees will be lower compared to employees in high-income positions. Socioeconomic status has been shown to have an effect on an individual’s health. An individual with low socioeconomic status has a higher mortality and morbidity rate. An individual with high socioeconomic status has a lower mortality and morbidity rate (Stoddard-Dare, Patricia, et al.). In terms of morbidity, which is the incidence of disease, and individuals with low income are less likely to miss work if they are sick. Workers without paid sick leave are less likely to take time off from work if they don’t have access to paid sick leave (Derigne, Leanne, et al.) Employees at lower sectors of occupations didn’t have access to paid sick leave, which could keep them from taking time off from work for sickness. This can increase the rate of morbidity.

Accumulation of Paid Sick Leave

The accumulation of paid sick leave at different companies. From the secondary data,
companies provided paid sick leave, and others allow paid sick leave days to accumulate over the years an employee has worked at the company. This was the case for Omaha Public Schools, Bellevue Public Schools, and Berkshire Hathaway. According to each of the companies’ benefit information, these companies allow their employees’ unused paid sick leave to accumulate over time. (Bellevue Public Schools, Berkshire Hathaway, Omaha Public Schools). The hours worked by each employee are not significant in terms of how many hours can accumulate. Larger companies, like Omaha Public Schools and Berkshire Hathaway have better access to paid sick leave compared to other companies in Omaha. These companies also tend to have a higher number of employees working, with the exception of Greater Omaha Packing. These companies are also large in the sense of the impact each has on Omaha. For example, Omaha Public Schools has several schools around the city of Omaha.

Along with availability of paid sick leave, those without access to paid sick leave have a
higher stress level and psychological distress than those with access (Stoddard-Dare, Patricia, et al.). Employees without paid sick leave are stressed out about complications that may arise if they choose to take time off work, including no income for that amount of time taken off, with the exception of FMLA. The stress that is caused by a lack of access to paid sick leave can have an immediate effect on the well-being of an employee (Baker-McClearn, Denise). Individuals with higher levels of stress are more at risk of contracting diseases, since stress has been known to lower the immune system’s ability to fight off diseases. If an employee who is sick shows up to work, there’s a higher chance of transmission or outbreak of diseases at their workplace (Baker-McClearn, Denise). Workers with higher levels of distress have decreased presenteeism and stability (Baker-McClearn, Denise). The overall attitude and performance of an employee decreases with a higher level of stress. When analyzing the secondary data and articles, the availability of paid sick leave can impact the well-being of an employee on many levels. With a lack of access to paid sick leave, employees are less likely to take time off work, which then increases the possibility of outbreaks in the workplace. A lack of paid sick leave can also increase the level of stress in an employee, preventing them from performing at their absolute best, and contributing to their morbidity rate. The analyzation of the research provides an understanding of the impact of paid sick leave
policies in Omaha and the effect on their employees.


Using the FMLA secondary data collected from nine companies in different sectors of the
workforce in Omaha, sociological notes from a text, and annotated bibliographies, the three themes of permission and verification, PTO concurrent use, and job protection in the FMLA policies of these companies can be analyzed from a sociological perspective with additional evidence from scholarly articles. Overall, due to the fact that FMLA is a law in the United States, there are multiple aspects of equality regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Every employee is entitled to twelve weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave due to incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal medical care or child birth, care for child after birth or placement for adoption or foster care, care for family with a serious health condition, or a personal health condition that prevents the employee from working if the employee has completed a year of service or has worked at least 1,250 hours for the company in the twelve months preceding FMLA leave. This is the same across the board for all nine companies.

Sociological Findings

Permission and Verification

Permission and verification of FMLA throughout the companies reveals socioeconomic
differences in policies. In lesser-income companies, there must be an advance notice of around thirty days with employer approval for FMLA to be used (McDonald’s handbook). Documents for verification may be requested of the employee. In higher-income companies, employers are not as strict with permission and verification for FMLA leave (Berkshire Hathaway, Mutual of Omaha handbooks). PTO Concurrent Use with FMLA
Socioeconomic inequalities in companies’ policies also arise regarding the theme of
concurrent use of PTO with FMLA. Employees of high-income companies are free to use their PTO with FMLA leave (Berkshire Hathaway, Mutual of Omaha handbooks). Most other companies offer the possibility of using PTO concurrently with FMLA leave depending on the situation (Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Omaha Public Schools handbooks).

Job Protection
There is equality with job protection in companies’ FMLA policies. All nine companies
provide job-protected FMLA leave because it is required under the law. Employees are
guaranteed to still have their job when they return from FMLA leave (Mutual of Omaha,
Berkshire Hathaway, Bellevue Public Schools, McDonald’s, JBS, and Greater Omaha Packing handbooks).

Socioeconomic Inequality

The most significant sociological aspect of the FMLA policies in these nine companies is
socioeconomic inequality. From the data collected in Omaha, high-income companies are not strict on permission and verification prior to taking FMLA leave, and their employees are usually free to use their FMLA leave when appropriate. Employees working for higher-income companies are also free to use PTO concurrently with their FMLA leave, meaning that paid sick leave is easily accessible to them (Mutual of Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway handbooks). Drawing from the collected scholarly articles, this means that these employees can afford to put their health and well-beings before their jobs, and they are more likely to have time to recover from their illnesses and prevent health outbreaks in their workplaces (Kumar, et. al). In the Omaha companies’ data, most lower-income companies require approval and verification documents prior to taking FMLA leave, causing the use of FMLA leave to be a hassle and possibly
discouraging their employees from using it. Additionally, employees working for lower-income companies are not as freely able to use PTO concurrently with their FMLA leave as employees working for higher-income companies, meaning that paid sick leave is not as easily accessible to them (Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Greater Omaha Packing, and JBS handbooks). It can be concluded using information from scholarly articles that these employees sometimes cannot afford to put their health and well-beings before their jobs, and they are more likely to not take time off work to recover from their illnesses and cause health outbreaks in their workplaces (Kumar, et. al).

Sociological Analysis

The articles collected address the social factors of inability to take time off work due to
absence of workplace sick policies or lack of accessibility to FMLA as important roles to an individual’s likelihood to contract an illness (Kumar, et. al). The article used a national survey, reported cases of H1N1, and hospitalization rates during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in the US to come to the conclusion that those who do not have access to paid sick leave or FMLA leave are more at risk of exposure to certain diseases. Results from another article showed that service occupations had the lowest percentage of workers with time taken off work and management workers had the highest percentage of time taken off work, including FMLA leave (Peipins, et. al). This correlates with the secondary data regarding FMLA leave collected from the nine companies of different sectors in the Omaha workforce. The study’s analysis also showed that workers in service or production occupations were less likely to report having FMLA leave (Peipins, et. al). These results support the conclusion that employees of lower-income companies
in Omaha are discouraged from using FMLA leave because of strict policies on permission and verification and their inability to use PTO concurrently with FMLA. These articles and their results along with secondary data collected from nine companies of varying job sectors in Omaha correspond with the conclusion that socioeconomic inequalities in companies’ FMLA policies, such as an individual’s occupation and access to FMLA leave with PTO use, affect an individual’s health and the environment of their workplace from a sociological perspective.

Health Care Plans

The health care plan topic talks about what different health care plans are offered to
employees working in various companies. By analyzing the results, fast food companies offered less health care plans to their employees compared to the larger corporations. Taco Bell continues to pay a portion of benefit premium (Taco Bell’s handbook). If this is not the case, the larger companies at least gave out this information compared to the high quantity food chains. For example, Berkshire Hathaway offers a no waiting period and pre-existing condition limitations. Also, legal services and financial support are offered to those who need it. (Berkshire Communities). Something that struck out was that only at the meat-packing plants were their health, dental, and vision care packs provided (Meat Packing plant employee handbook). The fast food chains did the least with offering health care plans and the corporations and the school districts were on the higher end.


Various health care plans allow employees freedom to either go to an in network or an
out of network. Out of networks require employees to pay for more of their specialized care. The corporations ended up giving out complete freedom for their employees to choose any provider that they desire. Corporate job employees were given 100% coverage when they were in the ‘’in network’’.


They offered 100% preventative care services that no other companies offered other than Omaha Public Schools (Omaha Public School employee handbook). Bellevue Public Schools offered a deductible and a Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan (Bellevue Public School employee handbook). This is the only company that offered that. Berkshire Hathaway, the corporation that has the largest employee list gave out counseling services to those that work there. These findings show that the companies that have a higher job status and sometimes a greater salary, tend to offer more health care plans. When the employees are given more health care plans, they are allowed more freedom to do the things that they want without having the stress of not having a plan.

Similar section

For the health care plan division in the research project, it is highly correlated to the
benefits availability section. When an employee is given a health care plan along with their job, that is a benefit that is given with that titled job (Baker-McClearn). The health care plan section should be right behind the benefit section because the health care plan is a part of the benefits that are given to the various employees. This topic correlated with the benefit eligibility category because they both are involved with the extra bonuses that are handed out to hardworking employees.


When employees are not given health care plans, employees might feel that they are not
well cared after and might not feel as safe or respected in their jobs. Employees that are not given the benefit of having a health care plan might end up becoming sicker for a longer time compared to the employees that are offered and given a mode of recovery. Those that are not given a plan might end up contributing to the majority of health care epidemics. Most of the epidemics in Omaha are created in public places, such as restaurants, hospitals, and businesses. It would not just be the diseases spreading that cause the epidemics, but the companies actually not allowing their employees to recover completely in a hospital environment. Some companies only offer a few days for recovery and that can make the virus rates rise exponentially when
employers do not offer health care plans on top of that. This is how the various degrees of availability to health care plans for employees can affect the outside environment by allowing the spread of communicable diseases to turn into a wildfire.

Employee Benefits

Employees receive and qualify for different benefits depending on where they work and
their position in their workplace. Different elements affect the benefits that an employee will receive. In the current society, those who work in more “prestigious” jobs tend to have more aid provided to them to help with their everyday lives. The study found that benefits differ throughout the city of Omaha, and not everyone receives the same ones.


Handbooks from various companies from around the city of Omaha were searched in
order to find information regarding employee benefits. The study found three common topics that arise in each of these handbooks. The first topic is that a person’s position affects the types of benefits they receive. Second, is the amount of hours an employee works also affects the types of benefits they receive. The third and final topic is that the types of benefits that an employee receives can differ depending on an employee’s position in a company.


The study found that work environment and position in a company affects how many and types of benefits an employee receives. Those who have a lower position are more vulnerable to struggle in certain situations compared to those who are higher up. For example, a worker at McDonald’s only receives sick leave through FMLA, and do not receive paid vacation unless there is an issue that fits into FMLA’s guidelines (McDonald’s handbook). While a worker at Mutual of Omaha can receive personal time off, vacations, and preventative care (Mutual of Omaha handbook). This means that a worker at McDonald’s will have to cover their own health care or live without it. This may make them more vulnerable to having health complications and not receiving any help.


The study found that the position a worker has and the amount of hours they work affect
which and what types of benefits they will receive from their employer. For example, at Mutual of Omaha, employees must be scheduled to work 30 hours or more a week in order to receive full health benefits (Mutual of Omaha handbook). It was also found that “riskier” jobs, such as a meat packing factory, and executive jobs tend to have better health care coverage than fast food jobs. As a society, people tend to watch over those who are more “at-risk” at getting injured in the workplace. If a person is injured while in the workplace, there is a greater possibility that they will sue their employer if they are not provided sufficient help to make up for their injuries. Also, if a person is in a more “executive” field, they will be provided with more help than “lower” tiered workers because of the contributions they make and the amount of responsibility they believe they have. Modern society compensates people for the amount and type of work
they do in order to avoid a conflict between the workers and employers.

Types of Benefits Received

The types of benefits a worker receives is also affected by the role the worker does in
their workplace. For some jobs, the study found, workers receive more benefits the longer their tenure is. A worker in a meat packing company will be able to receive extra weeks of paid vacation the longer their tenure with the company is (Greater Omaha Packing handbook). Also, a teacher at Omaha Public Schools will be able to roll over their vacation time if they do not use it in a calendar year, instead of losing that week altogether (Omaha Public Schools handbook). They can also receive extra days off the longer they work with the company. According to Garrity, workers who receive more benefits will suffer less from presenteeism, which is the reduction of performance due to being sick, if they have more benefits (Garrity). Those who are in more “important” positions will have to have more coverage because of their larger role in the company. This again, connects with modern society’s need to compensate those who put in work.


Healthcare Plans and Benefits

When analyzing occupations within this study project, there are a few things that stick
out. Factors such as healthcare plans or eligibility benefits within certain occupations play a role in people’s decisions to work there. Most of the major companies, such as corporations and school districts, have laid out benefits and health care plan for their employees whereas fast food businesses and meat packing industries base their healthcare plans off of the same national plan, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is only effective for employers employing more than 50 people. Five out of the nine employers looked at use the FMLA healthcare plan. Pregnant working women and mothers have longer leaves and advantages than other workers (Shepherd-Banigan). This factor may play a huge role in employees and their choice of work throughout the United States. For example, a woman planning to have children in the future may
look for a more secure job in terms of maternity leave and overall healthcare plan. Through FMLA, pregnant women and new mothers are allowed 12 paid weeks of leave. If the company does not use FMLA, they will have their own healthcare plan and benefits laid out. Some healthcare plans may include dental, medical, and vision insurance; and may also pay a deductible, such as Omaha and Bellevue Public Schools, JBS, Greater Omaha Packing, Berkshire Hathaway, and Mutual of Omaha. The only ones that do not are the fast food businesses; Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s.

The Number of Employees

The number of employees within a business or corporation affects the hourly wage or
yearly salaries that are given. When there are a high number of workers, it is hard to ensure that all employees are salary based and that the money is consistent, whereas fast food businesses give their employees fair hourly wage, based of position. (cashier, cook, manager, shift lead, etc.) For example, a corporation in Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway, employs 360,000 (Oyedele, Akin) people this year. The employees of this corporation all make different salaries and wages, based on position and experience. Berkshire Hathaway has various occupations such as; customer service, realtor, claims adjuster, transaction coordinator, etc. Their average starting salary for is a claim adjuster is roughly $48,000, whereas a transaction coordinator starts at nearly $72,000. McDonalds in Omaha recorded a number of 550 employees as of March 2017. McDonald’s starting wage in Omaha is nearly $10.00 per hour (McDonalds). Public school districts in Omaha such as Omaha Public Schools and Bellevue Public Schools, which recorded an estimate of over 8,000 employees combined in 2014, ensure that all teachers start their first year
at the same salary. The beginning salary for teachers in the public school district is $47,500. Teacher salaries rise as their experience rises and as their college education rises.

The Location

The location that a business and/or corporation is in impacts the success and traffic a
company receives. A business/fast food restaurant in a first-class neighborhood will receive more traffic and provide service to customers with more money. The business may also be more visually appealing, modern, and up to date. Fast food restaurants/businesses in lower class areas may be grounds for more homeless people and may not receive as much traffic and money at the end of the day as a high-class residing business would. The lower-class businesses/restaurants are more neglected in terms of cleanliness and modernization. For example, the corporation Mutual of Omaha is located in downtown Omaha along with all of the other Omaha skyscrapers
and big companies (ex: Woodmen Tower, Omaha World Herald, and the First National Bank Tower), receiving more attention. A McDonalds found on 144th and Center in West Omaha has been newly renovated and modernized, whereas a McDonalds found on 30th and Ames in north Omaha is run down, and falling apart. The fast food business is more focused on making the high class locations more visually appealing and modern than lower class neighborhoods, in hopes of receiving more business and attention. With this information, it is easy to see a distinct difference between fast food businesses, corporations, school districts, and meat packing industries.


After utilizing secondary data from Omaha, scholarly articles, and notes from a
sociological textbook, five themes connecting health and workplace health policies emerged: paid sick leave, FMLA, health care plans, employee benefits, and occupation. Through these five themes, correlations between company health policies and their effects on employees’ health and work environments in Omaha, NE were found. Making these connections is important to society because employee health is crucial to the American economy. Workers’ health should be a main priority in the country, and everyone should have equal access to paid sick leave, FMLA, health
care plans, and employee benefits regardless of occupation or socioeconomic status. Being healthy is a right everyone is entitled to as a human being. These five themes revealed the sociological inequalities in company health policies because of an individual’s occupation or socioeconomic status, leading to effects on employee health and work environment, and these social inequalities should be addressed and corrected by employers in Omaha and around the country.

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Omaha Social Project Spots Weaknesses In Work Culture That Threaten the Economy, Explore Omaha’s High Rates of STD’s, and Reflect On Responses To Covid-19.

Omaha Social Project is a collection of research created by UNO sociology students for the community to learn more about life in Omaha that might otherwise go unnoticed. The collection is 5 years in the making and spans more than 20 subject areas. Health related topics are most popular followed by a strong interest in sex education and technology. Students have developed the site throughout the years and are responsible for the name of the project, the topics studied, the content of the projects, and continually improving the quality of research.

I want the city to know about the work we are doing here. UNO students have made a sociological library of life in Omaha. There are important stories to share including research that explains why veterans are homeless in Omaha, the nature of the affordable housing crisis, the politics of the delicate blue dot, why jobs and germs don’t mix, and what makes Omaha part of the Silicon Prairie. You can explore the virtual research library at

This is an exciting year because our work is timely and it is beginning to get attention. Consider the project Why Jobs and Germs Don’t Mix, although we don’t predict Covid-19, the project lays out some of the cultural obstacles we face in asking people to stay home even if they are sick, let alone if they aren’t! After reading Chlamydia and Social Factors in Omaha, contacted Omaha Social Project. They have created a comprehensive guide on Chlamydia testing and would like to share it. Service providers and individuals currently facing the problem of STDs would find it to be of use.

Sociology and Anthropology Department Chair, Daniel Hawkins, PhD, helped Omaha Social Project secure funding for the website. “Creating hands on research experiences for students is essential to preparing UNO students for involved citizenship and successful careers. Dr. Edwards is able to provide this in an introductory class, which is rare,” Hawkins states. “It’s an exciting opportunity for Omaha to see itself through a sociological lens created by its own students. Dr. Edwards is truly offering our students an ‘intellectual adventure’ as she promises on the first day of class.”

Julie Dierberger, Paul Sather Distinguished Director of the Service Learning Academy at UNO, says the contribution that students make to the community goes beyond monetary value. “Understanding life in Omaha in a larger context can help us make better decisions as a community and continue our mission to make a strong and equitable community” said Dierberger.

I focus on student passion and encourage every student to study an aspect of life relevant to themselves but from within the context of the community. This semester when we were sent online, I felt that the experience was too traumatic to continue with business as usual, so everyone in the class wrote an essay applying all that they had learned from the class to their observations of Corona Virus and Covid-19, please look forward to that upcoming page. To contact me with data and project ideas visit or contact the University of Nebraska Omaha, Sociology and Anthropology Department at 402 554-2626 or, or