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Coronavirus Pandemic Response Requires Paid Sick Leave

About a quarter of U.S. workers get no paid sick leave at all

By Mike Stankiewicz

Person Using Forklift

The coronavirus pandemic is shining a light on inhumane corporate policies – such as the lack of paid sick leave – and is prompting lawmakers to step in.

About a quarter of U.S. workers, or about 33 million people, get no paid sick leave at all. Many of them are low-wage workers who live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to stay home from work. They usually go to work sick – but the coronavirus is highlighting the dangers of that. Rather than spreading a head cold, infected workers can spread a novel, highly contagious virus that has a higher fatality rate than the flu and that no one on the planet is immune to.

Some corporations that rake in billions in profits per year and employ hundreds of thousands of workers are some of the worst offenders when it comes to sick leave – including McDonalds (517,000), Burger King (165,000) and Marriott (139,000). Walmart, by far the nation’s largest private employer, extended paid sick leave to all employees in February 2019, but only 73% of workers surveyed since then said that they could take paid sick days.

And many employees who do receive paid sick leave often get far less than the 14-day quarantine period prescribed for people who may have the coronavirus.

The U.S. lags severely behind other first-world countries that provide up to 12 months of paid leave or more – like Sweden, France, Germany and Japan.

The prospect of infected workers going to their jobs because they lack sick leave has prompted lawmakers to scramble and provide some guaranteed paid for American workers affected by the coronavirus. The Families First Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed on March 14, would provide between two and 12 weeks of guaranteed sick pay for all full-time workers. The U.S. Senate passed the bill on March 18, and Trump is expected to sign it into law. Lawmakers are discussing additional measures, including the Murray-Gillibrand Paid Leave Act, which would provide 14 days of government-funded sick leave in the event of any public health emergency.

The coronavirus has shown how shortsighted the U.S. government is to not require that employers provide paid sick leave.

Federally mandated sick leave should not be provided to workers only during a pandemic. Every employee should have guaranteed paid sick leave all the time, regardless of their disease or sickness.