Yesterday, the House Education and Labor committee took a look at sick leave policies and their contribution to the spread of the H1N1 virus (swine flu). Public health experts have been voicing concerns that H1N1 is going to be transmitted by ill employees attending work, so Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has crafted a bill that would give employees five paid sick days if their employer sends them home due to H1N1.
Earlier this month, the Chamber of Commerce downplayed the extent to which lack of guaranteed paid sick leave could spread disease, saying that “the problem is not nearly as great as some people say.” And now the rest of the big business community is piling on:
Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers Tuesday, A. Bruce Clarke, who runs his own 1,000-member business lobby in North Carolina, told Miller’s committee that most businesses already have comparable or more generous paid leave programs, so why bother? “While some employers may not have taken specific action in response to the H1N1 outbreak, these employers are clearly the exception to the widespread practices taking place today,” Clarke said in his prepared testimony.
And its not only business downplaying the extent of the problem. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking member on the Ed. and Labor committee, also tried to claim that the “vast majority” of workers have paid sick leave:
“With so many workers already having access to a variety of sick leave options, we need to look very carefully at proposals to add a new layer of federal leave mandates,” the 2nd District Republican said in a prepared statement during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing…According to Kline, the vast majority of workers in the United States already have access to paid sick leave.
Actually, nearly half of private sector workers have no paid sick leave. This includes 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers, even though they are among the most likely to come in contact with other individuals. 68 percent of workers not eligible for paid sick days say that they have gone to work with a contagious illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an employee with H1N1 will infect one in 10 co-workers if he or she attends work. But without any paid sick leave, many workers can’t afford to take a day off, or fear for their job if they request time off to recover.
Miller’s bill, as it is, would address the immediate threat of swine flu, but would continue to give employers the choice regarding whether or not workers receive sick leave. It also doesn’t provide time off to care for a sick child. The Healthy Families Act, sponsored by Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-CT), would guarantee seven paid sick days to all workers at firms with more than 15 employees. Enacting HFA would be an important step to ensuring that workers don’t have to place their job and their co-workers at risk when they come down with an illness.