New York became the epicenter for one of the largest clusters of novel coronavirus cases in the nation this week, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators are moving fast to allow workers to stay home sick without employment repercussions.
In his State of State agenda in January, Cuomo proposed paid sick leave that would cover nearly all New York employees with at least five days of paid time off for illness. New York City enacted a similar bill in 2014.
On Monday, he pledged to send the bill to the state Legislature this week, which would specifically protect those required to quarantine or isolate themselves in relation to the coronavirus.
“I think it’s especially important that if the government is ordering a quarantine, even a voluntary quarantine, that places a personal hardship on a person and that person should get paid,” he said. “I don’t want to add to the burden that we’re creating.”
A quarter of U.S. workers are not provided paid sick leave as it is, and some don’t have the option of unpaid sick leave.
Many come to work while ill because they can’t afford to lose a paycheck; Of food industry workers surveyed in the U.S. and Canada in 2015, more than half go to work sick because they’re worried about income or supporting their coworkers, according to the Center for Research and Public Policy.
Those concerns are further highlighted as coronavirus measures, like mandated quarantines, event cancellations or school closures, become clearer possibilities across the state.
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Some food establishments, like banquet center Burgandy Basin near Rochester, Monroe County, already offer paid sick time to full-time employees, and make sure part-time employees are sent home without penalties if they're ill or in quarantine, as the case may be with coronavirus.
"Hopefully we’ve created a climate here that people know there are no repercussions if they call in," said co-owner Mike Clarcq, a past president of the New York State Restaurant Association.
Businesses are potentially facing a double whammy right now, given the general economic slump related to the coronavirus, plus the possibility of paying sick leave for employees and dealing with a potential shutdown in the coming weeks or months, said Benjamin Mudrick, who works with labor and employment issues at Rochester-based law firm Harter Secrest & Emery.
"If possible, all of my clients want to provide pay to employees if they have to be absent from work," Mudrick said. "The question is how do you strike that balance where the company could survive a shutdown of some sort, but also care for the employees?"
Students in the Edison school district will have a single session day Friday, while staff will have a full day, according to the school district. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CDC)
The proposed paid sick leave legislation would provide the following for New York employees:
State paid sick leave mandates result in workers taking an average of two more sick days per year, meaning less of them are going to work while ill, according to a 2020 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Also, mandated paid sick leave does not significantly increase labor costs for employers or decrease employment or wage growth, the study found.
Students wear masks after a confirmed case of the new coronavirus was reported on ASU's Tempe campus on Jan. 26, 2020. (Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic)
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been tasked with leading the national coronavirus task force, said in a White House meeting Tuesday that major health insurers across the U.S. have agreed to waive copays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment for all their benefit plans, according to the Associated Press.
Leaders from United Health, Humana, Anthem and other major insurance companies were present at the meeting.
The federal government announced last week that Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programs would cover coronavirus testing. The Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday that high-deductible insurance plans could cover coronavirus testing even if a deductible has not been met. The choice to provide that option to customers is left to the insurer.
Some companies, such as Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, will waive prior authorizations for diagnostic tests and covered services that are medically necessary, according to the company’s website.
An airline passenger wearing a mask makes his way through the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport Saturday, March 7, 2020, in San Francisco. As cases of the coronavirus surge in Italy, Iran, South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere, many scientists say it's plain that the world is in the grips of a pandemic — a serious global outbreak. (Photo: David J. Phillip, AP)
Discussions around paid sick leave are heating up at the federal level, as lawmakers look to pass a legislative package that would protect employees taking leave related to coronavirus.
Paid sick leave is not federally required, but is mandated in 12 states and Washington, D.C. A number of cities and local jurisdictions have also passed laws around paid sick leave.
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The legislation, proposed by senators from Washington and Connecticut last week, would require all employers to give workers 14 days of paid sick leave during a public health emergency, including the current coronavirus threat.
Pence said Monday that President Donald Trump’s administration is working to protect those who can’t afford to stop working, even while ill.
“When we tell people, 'If you're sick, stay home,' the president has tasked the team with developing economic policies that will make it very, very clear that we're going to stand by those hard-working Americans,” Pence said.