Responding to Coronavirus with National Paid Sick Leave

Friday, March 13, 2020

Responding to Coronavirus with National Paid Sick Leave

With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s time for a quick and immediate response. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), introduced the Paid Sick Days for Public Health Emergencies and Personal Family Care Act to address both the immediate and the ongoing need for paid sick days. This bill is a critical component of the government’s response to the COVID-19, also referred to as Coronavirus, pandemic. By guaranteeing fourteen paid sick days to everyone, the bill ensures that people can take the time they need for testing and quarantines without sacrificing their financial security and wellbeing. It will help people stay home confidently, without worrying about their paycheck or job, thus slowing the spread of the virus and saving lives. It will also allow parents to stay home with their children if schools or child care centers close for public health reasons. And, by building on the Healthy Families Act, the bill addresses the everyday needs of millions of Americans, particularly low-wage workers who have few—if any—financial or safety protections.

The potential spread of coronavirus shines a light on the ways in which people with power prioritize themselves and their networks. In turn, they fail to prioritize the people who’ve been denied the privileges of wealth and who’ve faced oppression and discrimination, making it harder to care for themselves, their families, and their communities. Inadequate policies to prevent the spread of this virus in every community are the result of sexist and racist cultural norms and economic inequalities that reinforce stereotypical images and social standings for Black women and other women of color groups. These “cultural norms” of who provides care and who needs or deserves workplace benefits can be traced back to the enslavement and subjugation of Black, immigrant and Native women, and have persisted throughout history. For example, the assumption that underpaid Black and immigrant nannies should hold the responsibility of caring for the sick children of white wealthy women and families, often to the detriment of their own children and families, has made it harder to pass comprehensive, national paid sick days laws.

The extensive holes in our public infrastructure—from the lack of any nationwide paid sick days or paid family and medical leave policy, to no universal child care or health care hurt those who already face the greatest barriers to equity and well-being. As Claire Cain Miller, Sarah Kliff, and Margot Sanger-Katz put it in the New York Times: “Unequal access to precautionary measures cuts along the same lines that divide the United States in other ways: income, education and race.” Congress has an opportunity to not only address the current public health emergency, but also put us on a path to greater equity.

Today, the lack of a national paid sick days policy means that people have to be “lucky” enough to live in the right state, county, or city, have the right job or boss, or be classified correctly as an employee in order to be able to care for themselves and their family members. The bill introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Patty Murray will address this by establishing a national paid sick days policy for all workers. In particular, by addressing both the current emergency and the everyday needs, and by including all employees regardless of the size of their employer or type of job, it is an inclusive, equitable approach to the current crisis...