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Push to Adopt Paid Sick Leave

March 19, 2010

Keeping Employees Healthy

The H1N1 pandemic put a magnifying glass to the nation’s public health and preparedness capabilities, including ways that Americans protect their health. Paid sick days are not always a given for many people in the nation’s private sector workforce. That may soon change with new legislation being considered across the country.

Many people may have contracted or spread the H1N1 virus while at their place of employment—7 million nationwide according to estimates from one study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. According to the study, in 2009 nearly 8 million people who were infected with H1N1 did not take a day off work. Also, between the peak month of the outbreak in October and the month of November, the drop in absentee rates was twice as sharp in the public sector as in the private sector.

Many states are in the process of considering or adopting legislative reforms that will allow people to take time off, rather than choosing between losing money on their paycheck or working while ill. Several workers and women''s rights organizations have taken on the cause.

Legislating Sick Days

The Connecticut State Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Public Employees has given its stamp of approval to a bill that would require private employers to provide paid sick leave.   The proposed bill also requires the same coverage for cases of injury, for treatment and medical care, and for counseling and psychiatric services. Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd was trying to pass similar legislation through the U.S. Senate last fall.

In Minnesota, 70 percent of voters gave their support during last year’s election for a measure to provide paid sick leave. Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore has argued that sick leave helps business achieve better productivity. But the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is challenging the ordinance, arguing that it was not clearly defined to voters and will result in losses for business. The Milwaukee State Supreme Court is currently deciding whether it will hear the case being defended by 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women.

Similar legislation initiatives have also been put forward by workers'' rights groups in Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington state. In Philadelphia, a public forum in February brought together a group of women to discuss paid sick leave.

"I was written up and penalized for having the swine flu,” said one of the attendees. “Even though I had a doctor''s note, they still wrote me up and said it is an ''occurrence'' now and it''s going to go on my permanent record."

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released several guidance documents for businesses urging the adoption of flexible leave policies during the H1N1 pandemic. Health officials cautioned that employees should not return to work until they were fever-free without medication.

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