Legislation Worker health and wellness

COVID-19 pandemic: Lawmakers propose emergency paid sick leave bill

sick leave

Photo: tupungato/iStockphoto

Washington — Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced legislation that would allow workers to accrue up to 56 hours of paid sick leave while requiring employers to immediately provide 112 additional hours during public health emergencies, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Murray and DeLauro unveiled the bills (S. 3415 and H.R. 6150) on March 5 and 9, respectively. Proponents for the passage of similar legislation since 2004, the duo in March 2019 reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, under which all covered workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. (The texts of the current bills were not available as of March 12.)

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, reporting that the number of cases worldwide had surpassed 118,000 and the death toll had reached nearly 4,300. The illness is reportedly linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In the United States, as of March 11, 938 people in 38 states and the District of Columbia had been diagnosed with the illness and 29 had died, the agency states.

“The coronavirus is highly contagious and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon,” Murray said in a March 6 press release. “Workers want to do the right thing for themselves, their families and their communities – so, especially in the middle of public health crises like this, staying home sick shouldn’t have to mean losing a paycheck or a job. This bill would immediately give workers the ability to care for themselves, their families and keep their communities safe. We need to pass it without delay.”

In the release, DeLauro contended the virus could be “harder to contain” in the United States than in other countries with established universal sick leave policies. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 27% of employees in private industry lack access to paid sick leave.

According to a March 11 report published in The Hill, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, blocked an effort to pass the measure by unanimous consent, which would have waived a vote.

“The idea of paid sick leave is a good idea,” Alexander said during a hearing on the Senate floor, according to the report. “But if Washington, DC, thinks it’s a good idea, Washington, DC, should pay for it. It’s not a cure for the coronavirus to put a big, new, expensive federal mandate on employers who are struggling in the middle of this matter.”


Officials from the American Federation of Teachers and the labor union Unite Here issued a press release March 5 calling on lawmakers to introduce paid sick leave legislation and develop a comprehensive health, safety and economic plan to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We need an economic plan that considers the well-being of communities across America,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in the release, “which includes a national program of paid sick leave in times of public health emergencies, quarantines, school and other potential workplace closures; more increases to unemployment insurance; and additional economic support for businesses that may be affected by a pandemic.

“For the majority of people in America who live paycheck to paycheck, a day without work means a day without pay, so it’s well past time for a national paid sick leave law to protect them and the communities they serve.”

Research shows that providing paid sick leave to employees can assist with preventing the spread of disease and does not trigger increased unemployment.

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