A12 EZ RE the washington post . sunday, march 22, 2020 the coronavirus outbreak
New sick leave law doesn’t help workers who need it most
BY ALYSSA FOWERS AND SHELLY TAN
The Families First Coronavirus Emergency Response Act passed the Senate on March 18 and was signed into law by President Trump.
The “phase 2” bill was one of the first moves by Congress in reaction to the coronavirus out- break and aimed at extending sick leave to vulnerable U.S. workers, along with other finan- cial benefits.
Nearly a quarter of U.S. work- ers don’t have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many of these workers, like waiters and waitresses, the federally mandat- ed leave comes too late, as layoffs from social distancing measures have spiked.
But many parts of the retail industry — such as grocery stores, pharmacies and gas sta- tions — will likely remain open, declared “essential” by such cit- ies as Philadelphia that have instituted shelter-in-place poli- cies.
Workers at these businesses will come into contact with the most people, and if they don’t already have paid sick leave, the
new law is unlikely to help.
The law extends paid sick leave to workers diagnosed with or in quarantine for covid-19, the dis- ease caused by the novel corona- virus. However, the guarantee only applies to employers with more than 50 and fewer than 500 employees. Many essential in- dustries have few companies of
Only 12 percent of workers in
essential industries work for companies that will be guaran- teed coverage by the bill. The problem is particularly acute for general merchandise companies, such as Target and Walmart. According to the latest estimates from the Census Bureau, 98 per- cent of workers in the general merchandise industry work for a business that is too large to be eligible for paid sick leave under the new law.
Many banks and grocery stores also employ millions of workers that won’t be affected by the new law.
Paid sick leave is nearly univer- sal in other industrialized coun- tries: In a review of 22 countries with high standards of living, only the United States and Japan did not guarantee paid sick days for short-term illness.
Most essential workers are at companies too big or too small to gain sick leave
Each figure represents about 100,000 employees at essential businesses
who work closely with customers do not have access to hand sani- tizer and may not be able to wash their hands.
“You have to go across a very large building to wash your hands in the bathroom.” she said, “and if you get a customer service call, you have to go back. There is only so long a customer can wait.”
Although Home Depot has shortened hours to allow for deep cleaning, Lowe’s is still open to customers from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lowe’s does not plan to change its hours. “People are nervous,” Alayna said.
If a worker does fall ill, sick leave is only part of the story. Another benefit in the new law is free coronavirus testing for all Americans, even if uninsured. When an uninsured worker needs care though, they’d likely still be on the hook.
Sixteen million workers did not have health insurance at the time of the 2018 American Com- munity Survey, according to the Census Bureau. That’s 10 percent of all workers. This coverage gap is a critical difference between the U.S. health-care system and that of other industrialized coun- tries like Canada, which guaran- tees care for all its citizens.
Ten percent of American work- ers are uninsured, but some pub- lic-facing occupations have much higher uninsurance rates.
Forty percent of uninsured workers are in occupations that involve serving the general pub- lic and close physical contact with others, according to the Occupational Information Net- work. For instance, more than 1.7 million sales workers and 600,000 health-care support workers are uninsured.
For workers who have already been laid off, the most important aid is likely to come in “phase 3” of the government’s coronavirus response. That’s the proposal that could send direct payments of $1,000 or more to all Ameri- cans regardless of employment status. Until that becomes law, unemployed workers are doing what they can to get by.
“I’m hoping I can make it through on food stamps and hoping the city government will do something to address rent,” said Chad, a waiter who spoke to The Washington Post about be- ing laid off. “If the worst happens …Ican’tgothereyet.Ihaveto take it as it comes.”
Workers that interact with the most people often don’t have sick leave
Each figure represents about 100,000 workers
Many essential employees are also uninsured
Grocery and general merchandise businesses too large for workers to gain sick leave
No paid sick Paid sick May be exempt from leave requirement leave required paid leave
No access to paid sick leave
Food and accommodations
Nearly two in three do not have paid sick leave.
More than one in three do not have paid sick leave.
Healthcare and social assistance
Nearly one in six do not have paid sick leave.
Source: Census Bureau
Access to paid sick leave
No health insurance coverage
Maids and housekeeping cleaners
Nearly one in three
More than one in four
Waiters and waitresses
More than one in five
Nearly one in six
Nearly one in seven
With health insurance coverage
No paid sick leave requirement Large companies with 500 or more employees
Paid sick leave required Companies with 50 to
May be exempt from paid sick leave Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees
Note: Includes employees at privately owned businesses in the following industries: gas stations, general merchandise stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, day care, dry cleaning and laundry services, commercial banks, and veterinary services.
Source: Census Bureau
The broad aim of the sick leave law was to make sure that work- ers infected with the virus would stay home without losing their income. This was especially im- portant for workers in fields with lots of contact with customers or at-risk individuals.
Nationwide, 16 percent of pri- vate industry workers did not have paid sick leave in 2018. That
figure was much higher for cer- tain vulnerable industries.
However, even employees with paid sick leave worry about their exposure risks from customers. Alayna, an assistant manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her job, said that the hardware stores are busier than ever, but employees
Ex: CVS, Walgreens
Ex: Shell, Exxon
Child day care
Commercial banks and credit unions Ex: Chase, Citibank
Ex: Giant, Safeway
General merchandise Ex: Target, Walmart
Large companies with 500 or more employees
Companies with 50 to 499 employeees
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees
More than one in 10
156K 1.3M workers