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.