House Democrats Introduce H1N1 Flu Emergency Sick-Leave Bill

On Nov. 3, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey D-Calif., chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, announced emergency temporary legislation that will guarantee 5 paid sick days for a worker sent home or directed to stay home by their employer for a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus.

“Sick workers advised to stay home by their employers shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihood and their coworkers’ or customer’s health,” said Miller. “This will not only protect employees, but it will save employers money by ensuring that sick employees don’t spread infection to co-workers and customers, and will relieve the financial burden on our health system swamped by those suffering from H1N1.”

“To help control the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, workers who are sick should stay at home,” added Woolsey. “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a sick worker will infect one in 10 coworkers. As a result, CDC and other public health officials have advised employers to be flexible when dealing with sick employees and to develop leave policies that will not punish workers for being ill.

At least 50 million American workers do not have access to paid sick leave, many in lower-wage jobs that have direct contact with the public such as the food-service and hospitality industry, schools and health care fields. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that the economy loses $180 billion in productivity a year when sick employees show up to work, also known as “presenteeism.”

Among other provisions, the Emergency Influenza Containment Act:

  • Guarantees a sick worker up to 5 paid sick leave days a year if an employer “directs” or “advises” a sick employee to stay home or go home.
  • Covers both full-time and part-time workers (on a pro-rated basis) in businesses with 15 or more workers. Employers that already provide at least 5 days’ paid sick leave are exempt.
  • An employer can end paid sick leave at any time by informing the employee that the employer believes they’re well enough to return to work. Employees may continue on unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.
  • Employees who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness cannot be fired, disciplined or made subject to retaliation for following directions.
  • Takes effect 15 days after being signed into law and sunsets after 2 years.

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on this legislation the week of Nov. 16.

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