Federal and State Need to Step Up to Protect Workers Impacted by Coronavirus

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the United States, it has highlighted the importance of paid sick days for workers and their families. To reduce the impact of coronavirus in our communities, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people stay home when they are sick. However, many workers lack that option, especially in states like Montana where workers are not guaranteed a single paid sick day.

Congress currently considering the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill has passed the House, and the Senate is likely to take it up later this week (perhaps with some amendments). This legislation is an important first step to provide some workers (though, unfortunately, not all) with access to earned paid sick days and paid family leave.

Those working for low wages are less likely to have access to paid sick days and more likely to be in jobs with contact with the public, like restaurant workers, early childhood educators, and home health aides. In fact, only 30 percent of the lowest paid workers nationally are able to earn paid sick days. Workers at low wage jobs are not only less likely to have paid sick days, but less likely to be able to afford to take unpaid time off from work. A low-wage worker who misses just 3.5 days without pay can equate to  the same amount a family’s spends on groceries for an entire month .

The ability to work remotely can also prevent the exposure and spread of a virus, but access to remote work is also more available to workers at higher income levels. While 35 percent of the workers with the highest income work from home on an average day, only 8 percent of those with the lowest wages do.

Montana lags behind 10 states and many local governments that have enacted paid sick day laws. We are hopeful that Congress will act soon to protect workers and help small businesses to provide paid sick days and paid family leave. And in the future, Montana should enact legislation on paid sick days, ensuring workers earn a minimum number of sick days each year, would help reduce the spread of infectious diseases, like coronavirus, and allow workers and their families to get the care they need to stay healthy.

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