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Health or work: coronavirus has put millions of Americans in a difficult choice

Millions of American workers without paid sick leave may be faced with an impossible choice if they suspect they are infected with a coronavirus. They will have to choose between health and livelihoods, writes USA Today.

Photo: Shutterstock

Concern that workers who cannot afford to stay home will hasten the spread of the virus, said US Vice President Mike Pence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that employers “ensure the flexibility of the sick leave policy and its compliance with public health recommendations”.

However, even in this fast-paced crisis that has brought down markets around the world, many still do without sick leave. 1 in 4 U.S. workers - over 32 million - have no paid sick days. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 out of 10 low-paid workers do not receive paid sick leave. Some American workers do not even have the opportunity to take unpaid sick leave, forcing them to either closely monitor their health or lose their paycheck and, possibly, the job itself.

Public Health Emergency

The need for urgent paid sick leave has become an urgent public health problem during the rapid spread of the coronavirus, said Nicholas Siebart, assistant professor of economics at Cornell University College of Human Ecology. The virus showed no signs of slowdown according to data on Tuesday, March 10. Confirmed cases reached 800 in over 30 states and the District of Columbia. The death toll in the US has risen to 27.

Zybart's studies show that compulsory sick leave in individual states and cities significantly reduces flu transmission. Other studies show that introducing sick leave in companies does not reduce wages or job creation.

“When people get access to paid sick leave, the spread of influenza is reduced,” says the expert. “In this situation, it is important that people with symptoms do not go to work and spread disease,” in order to reduce infection rates and buy time to develop a vaccine.

After a Walmart Kentucky employee tested positive for coronavirus, Walmart and Sam's Club introduced the new COVID-19 emergency leave policy, which gives quarantined workers up to two weeks to pay. If an employee with a confirmed case cannot return to work after two weeks, he may be granted additional leave of up to 26 weeks.

The moves reflect how quickly paid sick leave - one option President Donald Trump is weighing to protect vulnerable workers and the American economy from the coronavirus - has risen to the top of the national agenda.

On the subject: The number of jobs in February 2020 increased despite the outbreak of coronavirus

At a White House briefing, Mike Pence said he had heard from governors that hourly wage workers are forced to go to work, even if they are sick.

“The president is already working with congressional leaders to make sure no one feels at risk of losing their job or salary because they could contract the coronavirus,” said Pence, who leads the administration's task force on coronavirus. "We tell people," If you get sick, stay home, "and the president instructed the team to develop an economic policy that makes it very, very clear that we will support these hardworking Americans."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and other senior Democrats in Congress urged Trump to take steps to protect workers, including paid sick leave for those who are in quarantine or caring for children left at home due to school closure .

Senator Patti Murray, Washington, and Rep. Rosa De Lauro, Connecticut, proposed a bill in the first week of March that would require all employers to provide workers with 14-day paid sick leave during a public health emergency, including current a threat.

"In the richest country in world history, it's outrageous that we don't guarantee everyone a paid vacation," Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Twitter Saturday. "We cannot allow corporate greed to jeopardize public health."

Federal law does not require employers to offer paid sick leave, although this is required in 12 states and Washington, DC, as well as in 30 cities and local jurisdictions. The Paid Sick Leave Act in Nevada entered into force earlier this year. In Maine, it will enter into force in 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Typically, these laws require employees to earn a minimum amount of paid sick hours or days per year.

How Amazon, Apple, Uber and other companies respond to the outbreak of coronavirus

Coronavirus has given new relevance to the issue of whether all employees should receive paid sick leave.

King County in Washington State, the most affected by the coronavirus, recommended residents work at home. Professionals at large corporations from Amazon to Google have been given the green light to work remotely. This self-quarantine, assisted by tools such as video conferencing and group messaging, means that they are at a much lower risk of getting sick.

Some companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, have promised to continue to pay hourly wages to employees, such as kitchen staff, janitors, and bus drivers, even if their working hours are shortened.

Apple said it encourages its employees in Silicon Valley to work from home until the end of the month to stop the spread of coronavirus. A few days later, the company announced that it also provides extra paid sick time to retailers with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Tens of thousands of workers who deliver hot food and groceries or carry passengers are at much greater risk of contact with people infected with the virus, but classified by their employers as independent contractors, they do not have the benefits of their white collar colleagues. ...

Senator Mark Warner sent letters to executives from leading companies, including Uber, Lyft and Postmates, urging them to "publicly commit themselves to give priority to the economic security of your workers and to wider public health during the response to the coronavirus outbreak."

On the subject: “You think twice whether to go to the doctor”: why coronavirus in the USA can quickly become a disaster

Uber says it will compensate drivers up to 14 days for illness if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or if they are quarantined by health authorities. Lyft will do the same for an indefinite period of time.

Instacart and Postmates delivery services are implementing “no contact” delivery, and DoorDash says customers can add instructions to their mobile app so drivers can leave orders at the door.

Instacart has introduced a new sick-pay policy in stores across the country, including part-time employees and independent contractors. All part-time employees at Instacart now have access to sick leave pay, and any part-time employee diagnosed with coronavirus, placed in mandatory isolation or quarantine is entitled to pay up to 14 days. the company said in a statement.

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