Monday, March 2, 2020

Is coronavirus the thing that will finally make paid sick a national reality?

As of this morning, there are 88 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with two deaths. According to the CDC, one of the best measures people can take to prevent the spread of the virus is to stay home from work when they are sick. Yet, as noted by CNN, “for workers who don’t have paid sick leave, staying home when they aren’t feeling well can be financially devastating.”

The United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not require and provide any kind of paid sick leave to its employees. Some do have access. Per an executive order signed by President Obama, some federal contractors must offer paid sick leave to their employees. Later this year federal coverage will expand to federal government employees. And some states and municipalities require the same. Yet, most U.S. employees have zero access to any amount of paid sick leave.

Couple the lack of paid sick leave with employees’ fear of retaliation for calling out sick, and you have the makings of a national health crisis. Indeed, according to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a lack of workplace paid sick days contributed to an additional 5 million cases of influenza-like illness during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

Today, I am urging Congress to act swiftly by enacting legislation that guarantees paid sick leave to all American workers. No one should have to make the choice between paying their mortgage, or buying food, or filling a prescription, and staying home from work because of an illness. Let's (quickly) pass real and meaningful paid-sick-leave legislation because employees will continue to come to work sick, including with coronavirus. It's what's best for businesses and workers. And it's a national embarrassment that we are even still having this conversation.

* Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash