WASHINGTON — Health officials are telling people to stay home if they are sick in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak but many workers don’t get paid if they don’t show up to work.
A group of Senate Democrats proposed legislation to make sure workers get paid if their workplace must close because of a public health emergency.
It would also require employers to give 14 days of paid sick leave immediately during a public health crisis like the coronavirus outbreak and it allows employees to accrue seven days of paid sick leave throughout the year.
"For too many people, staying home from work means losing a paycheck or losing their job,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) said.
"Think about the restaurant workers,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. “The people who prepare our food."
Kali Stark is part of the work-study program at George Washington University and said she’s now dealing with lost wages because of the threat of the coronavirus.
"You don’t get paid for that time so I feel like a lot of people end up coming in sick anyway,” Stark said. “Now, the university is basically sending us home. I don’t get to get all of my work-study money for the semester.”
President Trump has said he supports giving people paid sick leave during the coronavirus outbreak.
"We're also going to be talking about hourly wage earners getting help so they can be in a position where they're not going to miss a paycheck,” Trump said.
Some Republicans have said they’re considering expanding paid work leave for small businesses and expanding employer tax credits to cover medical leave.
“I think there are two groups we need to be concerned about,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said. “One is those individuals who have to stay home either because they are ill or because their companies have said you need to work from home and if you are an hourly employee and you cannot telework, which is the case of a lot of employees, this could be a real hardship. So, I’m looking at legislation that is current law but could be expanded substantially to help provide medical leave for individuals that work for smaller companies where there is not medical leave provided and I think that is really an issue that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed now.”
“Small businesses are concerned that as coronavirus spreads, customers will decide to stay home in an effort to protect their families from its impact,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) said. “Congress should remain in session and work together with the White House and the private sector to move through the impact of the virus.”
It’s unclear if the legislation proposed by Democrats will get the support needed to pass.
Some Republicans have expressed concerns about how to pay for guaranteed sick leave.
“Employees are struggling, our employers are struggling, and it’s not a cure for the coronavirus to put a big new expensive federal mandate on employers who are struggling in the middle of this matter,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said. “Paid sick leave is a good idea. We do it in my office, the federal government now does it, and many businesses do it. But if the federal government wants to require it, the federal government should pay for it.”
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