Here’s a big fuck you from Congress to everyone else: The coronavirus relief bill passed this week removes a requirement that employers provide at least two weeks of paid sick leave at full salary if their employees contract the coronavirus.
The bill also strips requirements that employers provide two weeks of leave at two-thirds’ salary to those employees caring for a relative with the virus and 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds’ salary to those whose daycares or schools are shut down thanks to the pandemic. Both the Democratic and Republican parties confirmed to BuzzFeed that those protections for workers—originally implemented in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act of March 2020—were not extended in order to please Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
According to BuzzFeed, the federal government will continue to extend a refundable tax credit for employers paying sick leave until March—meaning paid leave will still end up costing employers nothing other than inconvenience in the long run, but it’s up to their whims and level of avarice as to whether they choose to do so. One Senate GOP aide told the site that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had initially refused to sign off on the bill Saturday night but eventually conceded because of the tax credit extension.
The original paid sick leave requirement wasn’t exactly sweeping in and of itself, as employers with over 500 staff were exempt and those with less than 50 employees could file for exemptions. The U.S. is the only wealthy nation in the world to not require employers provide paid sick leave to workers.
As the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, two 40-hour work weeks come to $580, pre-tax. The coronavirus relief legislation allocates just $600 in stimulus checks to Americans, translating to a total near-total wipeout for those who get sick and can no longer claim paid sick leave. As BuzzFeed noted, a Health Affairs study found that states which did not previously have paid sick leave requirements “saw around 400 fewer confirmed cases per state per day” under the law; extending these protections by four to six months would cost an estimated $8 billion to $13 billion, a relative pittance compared to the over $3 trillion in pandemic spending so far. The study found that “contagious presenteeism,” in which sick workers continued to show up for their duties lest they lose out on pay, appeared to play a significant role.
The extended sick leave requirements will now expire at the end of 2020.
Brian Mitnick, a 38-year-old school district IT worker in Hampton, Virginia told the Washington Post he was infected in August and found the emergency sick leave provisions to be a lifesaver as he and his wife and four children quarantined for two weeks.
“I was not 100 percent after, but I had been cleared by my doctor and was concerned to stay out longer because it wouldn’t cover my full salary. I guess I could have made it work, but it would have just been really, really tight,” Mitnick told the Post. “Knowing that we had that security was so helpful.”
Nearly 18.1 million Americans are estimated to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, with nearly 321,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine tracker. The true tally is almost certainly much higher due to undercounting.