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September 25, 2009

HR Fact Friday (pt II): Flu Outbreak Could Give Momentum to Paid-Sick-Days Bill

An outline posted at recommends that employers ‘establish policies for employee compensation and sick-leave absences unique to a pandemic.’ Preparations for an outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus this fall could give momentum to legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick days.

Even with the government urging companies to keep sick workers at home, the measure faces significant legislative obstacles. But advocates are using the flu scare to promote the bill. Titled the Healthy Families Act, it would enable workers to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work up to a total of 56 hours, or seven days.

Providing days off is exactly what the government is asking companies to do if their employees catch the flu. An outline posted at recommends that employers “establish policies for employee compensation and sick-leave absences unique to a pandemic.”

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Regardless of the size of the business or the function or services that you provide, all employers should plan now to allow and encourage sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs.”

Advocates of paid sick leave couldn’t have written it better themselves.  Supporters also are making the case on Capitol Hill that the workers least likely to have paid sick days are those in the food service, child care and health care sectors. Opponents of the paid-sick-leave bill acknowledge that the public health argument can be compelling. But they point to the economy as a reason not to move forward with the bill, which they say would place a mandate on companies trying to cope with the recession.

The legislative calendar is another impediment. Health care and energy reform as well as appropriations bills presumably would all come before paid sick days. The measure has had a hearing in the House.

But action in the Senate may be further delayed by a change in leadership at the Health Education Pensions and Labor Committee, where Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has taken over from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who died in August. Kennedy was the Senate champion of the paid-sick-days bill.

As a practical matter, even if the measure were approved this fall, it would likely take months for the Department of Labor to issue regulations to implement the law.

Source:, Mark Schoeff Jr.


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