Congress is considering emergency legislation that would guarantee five paid sick days for workers sent home or directed to stay home by their employer for a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus.
The House Education and Labor Committee will hold hearings on the Emergency Influenza Containment Act (H.R. 3991) next week. It was introduced last week by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
“Sick workers advised to stay home by their employers shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihood, and their coworkers’ or customer’s health,” said Miller. “This will not only protect employees, but it will save employers money by ensuring that sick employees don’t spread infection to co-workers and customers, and will relieve the financial burden on our health system swamped by those suffering from H1N1.”
It’s unclear whether the legislation will become law.
Speaking at last week’s HR Specialist Labor and Employment Law Advanced Practices (LEAP) 2009 Washington Conference, James Paretti, minority counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee, said he looks for fast action in the House.
“I expect the House will pass this bill this year,” he said. “Then it’s on to the Senate. My sense is there’s a lot less enthusiasm for it there.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a sick worker will infect one in 10 co-workers. As a result, the CDC and other public health officials have advised employers to be flexible when dealing with sick employees and develop leave policies that will not punish workers for being ill.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that 39% of American workers lack paid sick-leave benefits. Miller said many work in lower-wage jobs that have direct contact with the public such as the food-service and hospitality industry, schools and health care fields.
Among other provisions, the Emergency Influenza Containment Act would:
- Guarantee a sick worker up to five paid sick leave days a year if an employer “directs” or “advises” a sick employee to stay home or go home.
- Cover both full-time and part-time workers (on a pro-rated basis) in businesses with 15 or more workers. Employers that already provide at least 5 days’ paid sick leave are exempt.
- Allow an employer to end paid sick leave at any time by informing the employee that the employer believes they’re well enough to return to work. Employees may continue on unpaid leave under the or other existing sick leave policies.
- Prohibit employers from firing, disciplining or retaliating against workers who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness.