As the coronavirus gains a foothold in the United Staes, Americans are increasingly being told to stay home to mitigate the spread of the disease, particularly if they’re feeling sick.
But that’s easier for some workers to do than others, and there’s growing concern that Americans will be forced to choose between isolating at home or getting paid.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 24 percent of civilian workers, or 33.6 million people, do not have access to paid sick leave. In fact, the bureau’s National Compensation Survey found in 2019 that while paid sick is nearly universal for high-income earners, it becomes scarcer for lower-income workers
For instance, 92 percent of workers in the top quarter of earners, or those who earn more than $32.31 per hour, have access to some type of paid sick leave, according to the Pew Research Center. By comparison, just 51 percent of workers earning wages in the lowest quarter, or less than $13.80 per hour, have paid sick leave. Among the lowest-earners — workers who earn less than $10.80 an hour — only 31 percent receive paid sick leave.
Paid sick leave is much more common in the public sector than in private businesses. More than 90 percent of state and local government workers receive paid sick leave, even among the lowest wage-earners.
In the private sector, 73 percent have access to paid sick leave, but it varies drastically depending on what they do and where they work.
Thirteen states and Washington, D.C. currently require employers to provide paid sick leave to their workers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
On Saturday, the House passed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill, backed by President Trump, is headed to the Senate for a vote. One of the tenets of the bill, which seeks to provide relief to American workers stuck at home because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is paid sick leave.
If the bill is approved by the Senate and signed into law by Trump, it would grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the person’s normal salary, or up to $511 per day. The bill covers coronavirus-related sick leave taken during the next 12 months.
But there’s a catch: The bill only applies to employers with 500 or fewer workers. Small businesses with fewer than 50 workers can also apply for an exemption through the Labor Department if it “would jeopardize the viability of the business.”