Democrats introduce bill to guarantee paid sick leave in response to coronavirus

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation Friday that would require all employers to grant workers paid sick days in light of the global coronavirus spread.

The bill unveiled by Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroWork Share: How to help workers, businesses and states all at once Trump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Stimulus price tag of .2T falls way short, some experts say MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.) would mandate all employers to let workers accrue seven days of paid sick leave and immediately provide 14 additional days when there is a public health emergency.

Health authorities have been encouraging Americans to stay home if they feel sick to help prevent potential spread of the coronavirus, but the lack of a federal guarantee for paid leave has raised concerns that some workers — especially in the service and restaurant industries — might not be able to follow those guidelines.

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“The lack of paid sick days could make coronavirus harder to contain in the United States compared with other countries that have universal sick leave policies in place,” DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal health agencies, said in a statement. "Low-income workers and their families could be hit even harder by the virus, as low wage jobs are at the forefront of not providing sick leave benefits."

The two Democrats expressed concern that given the choice between staying home sick and going unpaid, low-wage workers would still show up to work, potentially spreading the virus in their communities.

“Workers want to do the right thing for themselves, their families, and their communities — so especially in the middle of public health crises like this, staying home sick shouldn’t have to mean losing a paycheck or a job," Murray said.

DeLauro's and Murray's bills would also ensure that paid sick leave can be used in a public health emergency for taking care of children if schools are closed or if a worker or family member is quarantined.

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have national requirements for paid sick leave.

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Ten states and the District of Columbia, as well as 19 cities and three counties, have adopted their own policies. But workers who aren't covered by local laws are limited to paid sick leave policies voluntarily offered by their employers.

Roughly a quarter of American workers do not have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Murray and DeLauro previously introduced legislation that would require businesses with at least 15 workers to grant seven days of paid sick leave annually to allow workers to stay home sick, seek medical care or take care of a sick family member. Their latest bill would go further in ensuring additional paid sick days in a public health emergency.

So far, their previous sick leave bill has not received action in either the House or Senate since they reintroduced it last year. Republicans have largely been resistant to government-mandated paid-leave policies over concerns that businesses might struggle to cover the costs.

As of Friday, 14 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. with more than 230 confirmed cases nationwide.

Trump signed legislation into law on Friday that provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal, state and local agencies to combat the coronavirus.