sick leave

Two U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would require employers around the country with 15 or more workers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave annually to their staff.

The effort is part of a rumble that started at the state level, where a handful of states have enacted paid sick leave laws. The issue has gained traction during the pandemic, which has shined a spotlight on leave policies that left many employees forced to choose between their health and going to work because they could not afford to take time off.

The bill’s author — Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) — noted in the legislation that 29% of the private sector workforce and 9% of the public sector workforce lack paid sick time.

“Working people without paid sick days are more likely to go to work sick and delay or forgo needed health care,” the bill states “A 2016 study in the journal Health Affairs found that working adults without paid sick days are 3 times more likely to forgo medical care for themselves, and 1.6 times more likely to forgo medical care for their family, compared to

working adults with paid sick days.”

The key elements

Here are the nuts and bolts of the bill:

  • It applies to employers with 15 or more workers.
  • It requires employers to let full-time employees earn up to 56 hours of paid sick time, including paid time for family care. Employers can choose to provide more than that, but not less.
  • It requires employers to provide one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.
  • It requires employers with fewer than 15 workers that opt not to offer paid sick leave to provide up to 56 hours of unpaid sick leave during the course of a year to each full-time worker. This provision is treated in all respects as the provision for paid sick leave, but with no pay.
  • Employers must carry over any unused paid sick time earned from one year to the next.
  • Employees will begin to earn paid sick time when they start a new job and will be eligible to take paid sick time starting on the 60th calendar day after their first day on the clock. After that 60th calendar day, the employee may use the paid sick time as the time is earned.
  • Employers may “loan” paid sick time to an employee to use before their 60th day of employment.
  • The law would not require employers that already provide up to at least 56 hours of paid sick leave a year to provide additional paid sick leave.

Under the legislation, a worker could take paid sick leave for:

  • An absence resulting from a physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition.
  • An absence resulting from obtaining professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventative medical care.
  • An absence for the purpose of caring for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or any other individual who they have a relationship with, or to attend a school meeting for their child.
  • An absence resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

State of play in Congress

The bill was introduced in mid-April and the House leadership has signaled support for the measure. There are rumblings that mirror legislation will be introduced in the U.S. Senate in May.

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