Opinion: Commentary: Paid Sick Leave

Opinion: Commentary: Paid Sick Leave

The safest way to avoid COVID-19 right now is to stay apart, especially if we are sick, even just a little sick. It’s difficult to do, unfortunately. We need to work and we all enjoy each other’s company — humans are social animals — and there are a myriad of ways in which we get together: in schools, shops, our houses of worship, gyms, and at work. Yet all of these and more are unsafe viral transmission opportunities. We must socially distance ourselves from each other while this virus is still able to infect us. One important tool most employers use to stem that transmission is to provide paid sick leave to their workers, keeping them isolated at home from fellow employees while sick. Unfortunately, there are still some employers who don’t offer this protection.

While we had many important laws coming out of the legislative session this year, without a doubt one of my biggest disappointments was the setback experienced in passing the legislation providing for paid sick days for Virginia’s workers. Now, as we face the COVID-19 pandemic and look ahead to getting back to work, the need for guaranteed paid sick leave for all workers has become even more acute. The reality is that 1.2 million workers in Virginia have no paid sick time or any paid time off, which equals approximately 32% of Virginia’s workforce as of June of this year.

As we return to Richmond in two short weeks for a unique special session of the General Assembly, providing paid sick leave for Virginia’s workers is a dire need, and is at the forefront of our priorities. Too many Virginia workers have been faced with the incredibly difficult decision to sacrifice the time needed to recover from illnesses, visit their doctors, and also care for their sick children or family members, in order to continue going to work so that they can make ends meet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this sacrifice has exacerbated the public health crisis, as sick people must continue coming to work because they get no paid time off (or worse, possibly lose their jobs by staying home) and thus continue to risk spreading the virus throughout our community.

The current proposal, a bill to be introduced in the House by Del. Elizabeth Guzman and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Favola, will require all employers of any size to provide at least 40 hours of paid sick time for all of its full-time employees. 40 hours is the average national standard in most states, although some states’ requirements are more generous. Workers would accrue the leave at a rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked, which is again, the national standard. This bill would only cover full-time public and private sector workers as defined by using the IRS definition of those who work 32 hrs or more. In a pandemic like the one we are facing today, all employers would also be required to provide 10 days (80 hours) of paid time off for exposure to COVID-19, which will allow time to quarantine with pay and not lose your job because you did the right thing and isolated yourself.

The requirements of this bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021 (the Virginia Constitution states that “all laws enacted at a special session… shall take effect on the first day of the fourth month following the month of adjournment of the special session”). One thing that this pandemic has made clear is that there are employees that are in dire need of the ability to stay home when sick, and the much-need change in this law with the expansion of at least a week of paid time off will be a welcome protection for workers even when the pandemic is over. Indeed, there is never a good time to work while sick.