Coronavirus puts paid sick leave benefits under scrutiny

Prominent lawmakers have called sick leave practices into question amid the rapid spread of coronavirus

As the coronavirus outbreak draws renewed scrutiny to paid sick leave practices among U.S. employers, recent government data shows which private industries are most likely to offer the benefit.

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Coverage is most expansive for management, business and financial industry workers, where 94 percent of employees had paid sick leave benefits as of March 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In professional occupations, such as teachers and nurses, 88 percent of workers were covered.

Across all private industries, 73 percent of workers are entitled to paid sick leave, according to the government data. Just 64 percent of workers in sales occupations and just 56 percent of workers in construction, farming, fishing and forestry had paid sick leave.

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Among state and local government workers, 91 percent of workers had paid sick leave.

Prominent lawmakers have called sick leave practices into question amid the rapid spread of coronavirus. U.S. authorities have reported more than 1,100 individual cases of coronavirus to date, as well as 29 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

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Several U.S. companies, including Apple, Walmart and McDonald’s, have updated their paid sick leave policies to aid those diagnosed with coronavirus or similar symptoms.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected to unveil a coronavirus aid measure for consideration Wednesday with a focus on immediate paid sick leave and other benefits for impacted workers. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has expressed support for the emergency measures.

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“We think it is appropriate for the government to pick up those costs. This is a little bit like a hurricane, and we need to cover these outside of normal expenses,” Mnuchin said.

President Trump has proposed a payroll tax break to aid U.S. employers as coronavirus weighs on the economy.

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