By Angie Brown, Business Development Manager & Absence Specialist
March 12th, 2020
New cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) are being reported daily around the world. Since first being reported in Wuhan City, China, as a new species of virus, Coronavirus is spread from person to person, through surface contact with droplets from coughing or sneezing, impacting the respiratory system of those infected. It spreads quickly and easily, and the virus has been detected in over 70 locations globally.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has advised that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long 14 days after exposure, so anyone who is believed to have the virus is being advised to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of Wednesday, March 11th a suburb of New York City with 79,000 residents, New Rochelle, has been deemed a containment zone, closing schools and other public places. Events are being canceled, postponed or delivered digitally, and all non-essential travel has been canceled by some of the world’s largest employers, including Amazon and Salesforce.
Employers across the country have been advised by the government that sick employees should stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus, or be sent home immediately if they appear sick throughout their working day. Large organizations, such as Microsoft, have ordered employees in impacted areas to work at home through March 25th.
Of course, not everyone can work from home. For workers who must do their jobs on-site, being asked to stay home can lead to financial hardship if they have insufficient paid time off.
Some employers are stepping up. Microsoft has announced that they will pay all hourly employees their regular wage while they’re out for this reason. What will others who are less fortunate do?
This pandemic is bringing forward renewed conversation about the need for paid sick and family leave. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have introduced emergency legislation that would require all employers to let workers accrue seven days of paid sick time. The bill would also provide 14 additional days of paid sick time to employees immediately when there is a public health emergency. President Trump, in an address to the country on March 11, indicated that his administration will take emergency action with respect to workers who are impacted.
Coronavirus Outbreak and Paid Sick Leave
While the government is urging employees to work from home, the fact of the matter is most employees don’t have that luxury. Research shows just 29% of US employees can work from home, and this segment of the population are more likely to be high earners. Only 8% of the lowest earners have the flexibility to work remotely. As you might expect, service-industry professionals and construction workers are least likely to have access to remote working.
These groups are also less likely to have their employers pay their time away from work when an epidemic strikes. They will also be less likely to have the capability to go two weeks without pay, without drastically impacting their lives.
In fact, one-quarter of US employees have no access to paid sick leave. Two-thirds of this population are low earners and are more likely to be working in service industries: preparing our food, tidying up our hotel rooms and caring for our children. With no access to paid sick leave, and without the ability to work remotely, how could we realistically ask them to stay home from work?
Although many of us have been pushing for paid family and medical leaves nationwide for quite some time, perhaps our government could see this as an example of where providing employees with access to paid leave can alleviate health risks when a pandemic takes over. Meanwhile, I’ll be monitoring the progress of the proposed bill and hoping that the government takes action to support our workforce during these uncertain times.