An Executive Order Responds to a Lack of Paid-Sick Leave in America and Gives Government Workers Something to Celebrate

By: Charity Barger*| Staff Writer 

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In America today, many households are dual-career households, meaning both parents have jobs outside of the home.  However, there is no federal legal requirement that businesses provide paid sick leave to their employees, although some companies are required to offer unpaid sick leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  In fact, the United States is the only wealthy nation that does not require a minimum of paid sick leave.

In an effort to fix this problem, the Healthy Families Act was introduced to Congress.  The Act allows employees of businesses with more than 15 workers the opportunity to accrue seven job-protected paid sick days a year.  In businesses with less than 15 workers, the employees would be allowed to accrue seven unpaid job-protected sick days.  This Act would provide great assistance to American workers who are trying to balance work and family. Unfortunately, the Act has stalled in Congress.

In response, this last September, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick leave to their employees.  The mandate does not provide relief to all workers, but it is a start.  Many Americans struggle with the ability to juggle kids, hold down a job, and pay bills.  A study found 23% of workers were threatened with the loss of job or lost their job because they took time off for sickness or to take care of a sick child.  Additionally, sickness is often spread by contagious employees who attend work sniffling and sneezing. During the H1N1 pandemic, 7 million individuals were infected by contagious employees that would not take off of work.  Of those 7 million infected individuals, there were 1,500 deaths.  People are literally dying because workers are not properly incentivized to stay home when they are sick.

Studies have shown that 3.1 days of lost pay is equivalent to an average American’s entire monthly health care budget.  Furthermore, 3.5 days of unpaid sick leave is equivalent to an average American’s monthly grocery budget.  Workers cannot afford to take time off, and the community cannot afford sick employees to infect others.  Yet, the hospitality industry is the industry least likely to give paid sick leave to its employees.

There are critics to the President’s new executive order.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has referred to the order as a compliance nightmare.  In cities such as San Francisco, businesses will have to conform to three separate sick leave policies: city, state and federal.  The Chamber of Commerce argues that the current proposal does not take into account workers such as: independent contractors, lessees or concessionaires.  Questions remain as to how these workers will be treated under this new mandate.  Whether or not compliance will be an issue remains to be seen.  Still, for federal employers who have been working to juggle conflicting roles, the President’s executive order is sure to be an immense relief.

Charity Barger is a second year law student.  She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a minor in pre-law, from the University of West Florida.  After law school, Charity hopes to work in corporate law, specializing in Mergers & Acquisitions.