Nov 06, 2009

Emergency Sick Leave Bill: Congress Considers Time Off for the H1N1 Virus

Earlier this week, Representatives George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, both from the San Francisco Bay Area, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would require employers to provide five paid sick days per year to workers who are sent home (or asked to stay there) because of a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus. The bill would apply to full-time and part-time employees; part-timers would receive a prorated number of hours off. The bill also protects employees who are directed to stay home, by providing that their employers may not discriminate or retaliate against them for following these directions.

Lately, the news has been filled with stories of workers who don't get paid time off and can't afford to stay home when they are ill. As the press release for the bill points out, many of the estimated 50 million Americans who don't get paid sick leave work in low-wage jobs, such as food services, hospitality, school work, and health care, where they are likely to have contact with the public. And, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that every worker who comes to work sick will infect one in ten coworkers.

The CDC has recommended that those who have the H1N1 virus stay home until 24 hours have passed since they last had a fever. (Those in the healthcare field are advised to stay home for seven days after they first get sick, or 24 hours after their symptoms go away.) However, the CDC has also said that those who have been sick may continue shedding the virus (that is, they will continue to be contagious), although at lower levels, for up to ten days. 

The bill, called the "Emergency Influenza Containment Act," would apply only to employers with at least 15 employees. It's intended as an emergency provision, and would sunset (expire) two years after enactment. The House Committee on Education and Labor is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill in a couple of weeks.