May 20, 2009

Healthy Families Act Would Require Paid Sick Leave

It's a good thing my employer offers paid sick leave. That meant I could stay home a few days ago with my summer cold. I was able to catch up on my sleep, and my office mate was able to not catch my cold. Many employees aren't so lucky: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39% of those who work for private employers don't get paid sick leave.

But that could be changing soon. Earlier this week, Rep. Rosa De Lauro (of Connecticut) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, HR 2460. The bill would require some employers to offer paid sick leave. Sen. Ted Kennedy is expected to introduce a similar bill in the Senate this week, depending on the state of his own illness and how it affects his return to work. (To read the bill, search for "HR 2460" on the Library of Congress's THOMAS website.)

The bill would require employers with at least 15 employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works, up to 56 hours per year. Employees could use the sick leave for their own illness, for preventive care, to care for a family member (defined broadly to include anyone related to the employee "by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship"), or to seek medical or legal assistance relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

This bill includes rights that already exist in a number of states and localities, although the federal bill knits together several types of state and local laws: paid sick leave laws, as are in effect in San Francisco and Washington, DC; so-called "small necessities" laws, which allow parents to take time off for their children's school-related activitites and often to take children to preventive care medical and dental visits; and domestic violence leave laws.