WASHINGTON – A new proposal would require most businesses to provide paid sick leave to the millions of Americans who don't have it.
The Healthy Families Act,sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,D-Mass.,and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro,D-Conn.,would require all employers with 15 or more employees to provide seven days of paid sick leave annually. The leave could be used to meet the employee's own medical needs or to allow him or her to care for the medical needs of a family member.
It would extend the provisions of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act by granting paid sick leave for even minor illnesses. The existing law requires companies to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for major illnesses,childbirth or adoption.
Kennedy,who was on the Senate floor during a Capitol Hill news conference about the proposal Tuesday,issued a statement of support.
“Most Americans assume that paid sick days are a right. They're not. Hardworking men and women deserve better than that in this day and age,” the statement said. “This bill is a first step to guarantee that every worker who needs sick leave can afford to take it.”
DeLauro,who presided over the event,said, “It is our view that paid sick leave is a basic right of people in the workplace.”
Jody Heymann,a physician at Harvard University,and her research team have worked for 12 years examining how conditions in the United States affect the health,development and well being of families.
Heymann found that at least 139 countries provide sick leave to employees. The full report will be released Wednesday.
Heidi Hartmann,president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research,conducted research to find which employers are least likely to provide sick leave. The finding is one that Hartmann said she believes would scare many.
“The single worst record is that of the accommodations and food service industry,where 86 percent of the workers have no paid sick leave,” Hartmann said. “These are people working with our food.”
Debra L. Ness,president-elect of the National Partnership for Women & Families,said the Healthy Families Act will be one of the most important bills Congress will consider this year.
The National Partnership,which originally wrote the Family and Medical Leave Act,released a report titled,“Get Well Soon: Americans Can't Afford to be Sick.” Ness called it the most comprehensive analysis of the laws and regulations governing paid sick leave in the United States.
The group found that not a single state is doing all it should to guarantee paid sick days to employees. California received the highest grade,a B+,because it requires private employers to allow workers to use their own sick leave to care for an ill child.
Mississippi and Louisiana ranked worst,receiving grades of F because they have no laws governing sick leave for private sector employers. Twenty-six states received a D-.
“Paid sick days are a critical issue for millions of Americans,” Ness said. “Millions of Americans must literally choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or for a family member.”
Randy Johnson,vice president of labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,disagreed with the proposal.
“If it's a seven-day leave now,it'll be a 14-day leave tomorrow,” Johnson said.
The proposal's authors had no data about how it would affect businesses and the economy in general. Hartmann predicted cost estimates will be available in a few weeks.
Because of public opinion and the groundbreaking effects of the Family and Medical Leave Act,however,DeLauro said she is optimistic the law will pass in a short time.
“The lack of paid sick leave results in many types of harms that ripple out through our society,” Ness said. “Its more than just an analysis or numbers on a page. It's about families and the problems they face every day.”