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H1N1 Drives Debate on Paid Sick Leave
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “If you feel sick, stay home”. But for millions of American workers without paid sick leave, that can mean choosing between losing a paycheck or going to work sick. Senator Chris Dodd and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced emergency legislation in Washington today that would guarantee paid sick days for workers.

Ana Ocana is a single mom who cleans offices in downtown Hartford. She’s worked 30 hours a week for more than 16 years. Two weeks ago, her daughter got sick. "Ella tuvo el H1N1, positivo con papeles del medico. Yo perdi todo ese tiempo de trabajo"

Her daughter had the H1N1 flu virus, confirmed by medical tests. Ocana stayed home to care for her daughter. "No tengo con que de cubrir los biles de este mes porque no pues no tengo dinero. No hay cheques este fin de semana".Now she says there’s not enough money to cover her bills this month. Ocana is one of the 57 million Americans, nearly half the nation’s workers whose jobs have no paid sick leave. The current swine flu pandemic has shined a spotlight on the problem.

Legislation introduced today by Senator Chris Dodd and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days if they’re sick, if they need to stay home to care for a sick child, or if their child’s school closes because of the flu. Dodd says the US is one of only four countries in the world without paid sick leave. "The other three countries are very significantly underdeveloped nations. And so for the United States to be the only other nation in the world among industrialized nations that don’t provide the sense of decency and fairness, seems to me long overdue."

But Kia Murrell, assistant counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association says this isn’t the economic climate in which to burden businesses with more mandates. "If sick time is made to be an entitlement as opposed to an employee benefit, it is basically going to put many employers in a position where they’re forced to choose between holding onto that person’s job or keeping the doors to their business open."

Dodd says, "Well first of all, one of the things we do, we exempt small business." His federal proposal targets only larger employers who he says may not be as flexible about the needs of their employees as smaller business owners. The bill would sunset after two years. 

Fifteen states are also debating their own mandatory sick-leave laws. But business leaders say legislation would be fairer at the federal level so states remain equally competitive.


 

Submitted by Nicole Belson

Many employees with flu symptoms or sick family members would be able both to stay home and stay on the job if they could telecommute. For this reason, the Obama Administration has advised businesses preparing for a severe pandemic to allow telecommuting, as well as sick leave. However, just like sick leave, telecommuting is unaffordable for many Americans.

As things stand now, if an employee works for an out-of-state business and agrees with her employer that she will telecommute while her child recovers from the flu, she may be subject to an untenable tax penalty. She may be taxed twice on the wages she earns at home: once by the state where she lives and then a second time by the state where the business is located. The threat of double taxation can make it impossible for an employee to consider telework when she or a family member gets sick.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced legislation in the last session of Congress that would solve this problem: The Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act. The bill would prohibit states from taxing the wages nonresidents earn when they work at home, eliminating the double tax risk. Congressmen Jim Himes (D-CT) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) have reintroduced this bill in the current session. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has co-sponsored it.

To enable workers whose families are affected by the flu to stay home - while minimizing the loss of productivity for businesses - Congress should remove the tax barrier to telecommuting.  It should pass the Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act together with paid leave legislation.