Tuesday, November 3, 2009

H1N1 Emergency Sick Leave Bill

Congress2George Miller, Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor and Lynn Woolsey, Chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee have introduced emergency temporary legislation today that would guarantee five paid sick days to any employee sent home or directed to stay home by an employer because of a contagious illness. Hearings will be held the week of Nov. 16, and if it is enacted, the bill will become effective 15 days after signing and expire in two years. From the Committee's blog post, here:

Explaining why this bill is needed, Contra Costa Times quotes Chairman Miller, "Sick workers advised to stay home by their employers shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihood, and their co-workers’ or customer’s health. This will not only protect employees, but it will save employers money by ensuring that sick employees don’t spread infection to co-workers and customers, and will relieve the financial burden on our health system swamped by those suffering from H1N1.”

This announcement comes at the same time that the NY Times has several articles on the subject. See this on the Economix Blog for more on who gets sick leave. And this on how the lack of paid leave may worsen a flu pandemic. If the lack of paid sick leave poses serious public health risks and some employers penalize people for taking sick leave (even unpaid), it seems we maybe we should not rely on employers to send people home as a condition to receiving benefits and may need a different kind of protection. I'm assuming here that the FMLA would not provide that protection because of the relatively short duration of the flu. In addition, if small employers have difficulty affording such leave, maybe we should move to a sick leave insurance system like we have for unemployment.



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