Amid coronavirus crisis, workers’ sick leave becomes national issue
“Across the country, efforts to contain the coronavirus are complicated by the legions of low-wage workers who lack sick pay and often feel compelled to show up even when they’re showing symptoms.
Experts have a name for the phenomenon: “contagious presenteeism.”
For years, the difficulties of working without sick pay received only a smattering of attention, but with the coronavirus outbreak, the question of sick pay has risen to national prominence.
Today, about 24% of U.S. workers lack access to sick pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or more than 30 million people. Many of them are low-wage workers whose jobs involve working closely with the public – restaurant and retail workers, health-care aides – and this could conceivably make them virus “super spreaders.”
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, Tuesday implemented an emergency-leave policy allowing its 1.4 million hourly workers to take time off without penalty if they fear spreading the virus.
The same geographic polarization apparent in presidential elections arises as well in debates over sick pay: Some states, most in the Northeast and on the West Coast, are requiring sick pay. Many other states, most in the South, are heading in the opposite direction: They are passing legislation explicitly forbidding any such mandates.
Since 2011, 13 states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia have required employers to offer sick pay, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Washington state, the state’s unemployment insurance program will cover workers whose companies close due to the outbreak, Nick Demerice, spokesperson for the state employment security department, said in early March. Likewise, workers who require hospitalization or who must take care of a stricken family member may be covered under the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law, which went into effect this year, Demerice said. He said it’s unclear whether quarantined employees would qualify.”
Seattle Times 10 March 2020