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Dr. Jody Heymann: "It's time to end zombie arguments against paid sick leave"

Dr. Jody Heymann – founding director of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public health, public policy, and medicine at UCLA – co-authored an opinion piece published by about the role that paid sick leave could play in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Written by Dr. Jody Heymann and Brigid Schulte

As the US economy begins to reopen, the top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned of the preventable "suffering and death" that could result if done too hastily. Nonetheless, most states that have started opening their economies are doing so despite failing to meet the Trump administration's recommended criteria for safely resuming public activity. So, what are workers to do if they are expected to return to work but they feel sick?

Paid sick leave is the only way all workers in America can afford to stay home when they are sick and not spread the novel coronavirus to others. Yet, in a report released May 14, the Federal Reserve found that one in five workers still had no paid sick leave in April as the pandemic raged, even after Congress passed an emergency paid sick leave law in March. That's because Congress exempted large companies -- who employ the bulk of the low-wage grocery, retail and delivery workers with no paid sick leave that we've come to rely on as "essential." Seeking to close that gap, House Democrats passed legislation on May 15 to expand sick leave to more workers. Senate Republicans quickly deemed the plan "dead on arrival."

Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials have sided with the influential business lobby and insist that a national paid sick leave policy is the wrong move now. In a letter to Congress, Neil L. Bradley, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, warned against passing a "federal, one-size-fits-all, permanent leave mandate." They hold this view even as a number of polls show the vast majority -- 85% -- of Americans support requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to employees who are ill. The Pew Research Center found 79% of Republicans and 93% of Democrats agree that workers with a serious health condition should be able to take paid leave from work in order to recover.