Safety in sick leave
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Our nation is in a declared national emergency and a hot spot in a global pandemic. Across the country, schools, churches and stadiums are being shut down to keep people safe.

Now more than ever, we need federal policy that encourages working Americans to stay home if they are ill or contagious. We need comprehensive paid sick leave for all employees.

There was a lot of chatter about H.R. 6201, the Families First Act, including a provision for paid sick leave. Here’s the truth: that bill, passed at 12:55 am on Saturday, March 14, gives millions of Americans two weeks of paid leave if they get sick or must care for a loved one or a child home from school. But at the insistence of the White House, Congress allowed exceptions for both smaller and larger employers (those with more than 500 employees), leaving an estimated 80 percent of America’s workers not covered.

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The health of our workforce is the lynchpin to stabilizing our economy and preventing a deep recession. The coronavirus will prey not just on the health of Americans but their financial wellbeing. In its next bill responding to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Congress must include 10 days of paid sick leave—regardless of employer size.

Many of America’s largest companies already provide paid sick leave to their employees, so such a rule would not affect them. And we’re not suggesting taxpayers reimburse Fortune 500 companies for offering this benefit, as the Families First Act does for smaller employers. But those large companies that do not yet grant paid sick leave should be required to do so. This pandemic is a particularly terrible moment to cut corners in a way that leaves millions of American workers without necessary benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that individuals take appropriate preventative actions, including staying home if an individual feels any symptoms or lives with someone who is symptomatic. When sick employees are able to stay home, they prevent others from getting sick. This prevents contagion to customers but also improves the overall health of the workforce.

The result is that providing paid sick leave is actually a benefit to employers—not just to employees. CDC researchers have estimated that giving workers paid sick leave “might save employers almost $1 billion to $2 billion, expressed in 2016 dollars, in reduced absenteeism costs related to flu and similar illnesses during each of these years.”

While the Families First Act was a huge step forward, it falls short of creating adequate paid sick leave for all American workers. We cannot fathom why the administration wanted to exclude huge corporations while putting our smallest businesses at a relative disadvantage.

This national emergency is shaking the foundations of daily life in America. This crisis demands leadership to protect American workers. We call on our colleagues, regardless of party, to expand upon the Families First Act. Mandating 10 days of paid sick leave for all employees, including those who create value at our biggest corporations with the most mighty lobbying power, will preserve the health of both workers and the public, and indeed will shore up our entire economy during this emergency.

Rep. Katie Porter represents California’s 45th District. Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) Malinowski'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Mo Brooks defends comments at pro-Trump rally after 'vicious and scurrilous' attacks House Democrats unveil resolution to censure Rep. Mo Brooks over Capitol riots MORE represents New Jersey’s 7th District.