Friday, May 29, 2009

Bill Introduced To Create Paid Sick Day Policy

To show up for work or not to?

That question has resonated especially strongly amidst this spring’s swine flu scare. While the odds have been low of contracting the disease, anyone feeling a little poorly has had to decide whether they should stay home and risk falling behind on the job or risk infecting co-workers.

A bill introduced last week by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) aims to make such decisions easier. The Healthy Families Act would require companies with at least 15 employees to provide up to 56 hours – seven days – of paid sick leave a year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours of work. Employees would be able to use the time not only to recover from illness but also to obtain preventative and diagnostic treatments, care for sick family members and seek help in incidents of domestic abuse. Employers already providing leave would not have to change their existing policies provided it is used for a purpose outlined in the Healthy Families Act. In addition, employers may request documentation for any request longer than three consecutive days.

Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to introduce companion legislation.

DeLauro’s bill coincides with the release of a report on sick day policies by the the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries found that the U.S. was the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in economic and human development that does not guarantee paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses. Present law doesn’t require employers to provide either; instead, companies offer this benefit on a volunteer basis. The study calculated the government- or employer-provided support for workers who missed five days because of the flu or 50 days for cancer treatment. The other countries included Germany, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand.

“Working Americans can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick because they don’t have paid sick days,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, the director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and lead author of the report, in a press release. “The lack of paid sick days puts Americans at substantially greater risk of contagious diseases – from the flu, which kills thousands annually to diarrheal disease, respiratory infections and the threat of new diseases like the H1N1 (swine) flu virus.”

Based on two separate reports, Contagion Nation estimates that about 20 million people in the U.S. go to work sick, many of them . “The economic impact of a serious flu outbreak are potentially enormous,” says Heymann.

Not all employment related organizations support the measure. Some believe that the bill would financially burden companies that are already under pressure. “Congress could not pick a worse time to impose untested and costly new mandates on U.S. employers,” said Lisa Horn, chair of the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave and an employee of the Society for Human Resource Management’s government affairs department. SHRM would prefer legislators to focus more on the development of flexible work policies. The organization says that most U.S. employers already provide some form of paid sick leave. 

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