Legislation to Require Paid Sick Leave Introduced into House

From Today’s Daily Labor ReportLegislation to Require Paid Sick Leave For ’Contagious’ Workers Introduced into House

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) Nov. 3 introduced legislation (H.R. 3991) that would guarantee five paid sick days for workers sent home or told to stay home by their employer in relation to a “contagious” illness, such as the H1N1 virus.

Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the “Emergency Influenza Containment Act”with seven co-sponsors, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee. The bill was referred to Miller’s committee.

Under the legislation, employees who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness could not be fired, disciplined, or made subject to retaliation for following directions. Employers who fail to provide the leave or retaliate against employees would be subject to penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Sick workers advised to stay home by their employers shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihood, and their co-workers’ or customers’ health,” Miller said. “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.”

The bill 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 to go home.

The legislation would cover full- and part-time workers in businesses that have 15 or more workers and do not currently provide at least five days of paid sick leave.

The bill would allow employers to end paid sick leave at any time by informing the employee that the employer believes the worker is well enough to return to work. Under the bill, employees could continue on unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.

The legislation defines “contagious illness” as “influenza-like illnesses such as the novel H1N1 virus.”

The bill would take effect 15 days after being signed into law and would sunset two years after enactment.

Hearing Expected Week of Nov. 16
The House Education and Labor Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the legislation the week of Nov. 16.

“To help control the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, workers who are sick should stay at home,” Woolsey said. “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a sick worker will infect one in 10 co-workers, according to Miller.

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said her group wants the bill to allow workers to decide when to take the leave.

“The paid sick days law America needs will go further than this initial bill,” Ness said. “The Emergency Influenza Containment Act is a first step, and we look forward to working with Congressman George Miller to ensure that this legislation provides workers with the right to decide when to take a paid sick day, allows working parents to care for sick children, and protects workers’ jobs when they are sick.”

Ness’s group estimates that the economy loses $180 billion in productivity a year when sick employees show up to work.

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