Coronavirus Pandemic Prompts Lawmakers to Push Paid Leave

By: - March 18, 2020 12:00 am

Natalie Marquez, manager of the Saucy Porka restaurant in Chicago, prepares for the final day of in-dining service after a ban by Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Some state leaders want to expand paid leave benefits in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Charles Rex Arbogast/The Associated Press

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Some Democratic state lawmakers, like their congressional counterparts, are redoubling their efforts to pass paid leave legislation, arguing that the spread of the novel coronavirus proves that workers must be able to stay home without losing pay when they’re sick, quarantined or caring for a family member.

“The policy of paid sick time is an important policy anytime. It’s particularly important when we’re trying to stop the spread of a global pandemic,” said state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Kentucky Democrat who has put forward a bill that would require employers to give workers accrued sick days. 

Yet efforts to pass comprehensive paid leave legislation in states such as Kentucky, Colorado and New York face challenges. Lawmakers are grappling with a volatile economy, uncertain budgets, tight calendars and long-standing divisions over whether employers should be required to offer paid leave and who should pay for it.

Business groups remain resistant to sick pay mandates. “The bottom line for us in all these debates is flexibility,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center. Most small businesses offer some sort of paid time off, she said, even if they don’t offer sick days or family leave specifically.

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.