There’s growing consensus that Americans need to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially if they feel sick or have a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus.
The health of the nation comes first, experts say, but there’s broad concern that many workers might be forced to choose between staying home or getting paid if they feel under the weather or need to care for a sick relative.
On Saturday, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act after negotiations with the White House. The bill, supported by President Donald Trump and headed to the Senate, aims to provide money to most American workers stuck at home due to the coronavirus.
If the bill is approved by the Senate and signed by Trump, it would grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the person’s normal salary, up to a $511 per day cap. It also would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of the person’s normal pay, up to a $200 per day cap.
But there’s a catch: It doesn’t cover everyone. Small and midsized companies are required to provide these benefits, though companies under 50 workers can apply for a waiver from the paid family leave.
Gig workers and people who are self-employed also get the benefits in the form of a tax credit.
But large companies with more than 500 employees are not mentioned in the bill. Experts say that’s a significant loophole.
These employees will have to rely on the policies of the companies they work for.
According to the Labor Department, 89 percent of workers at companies with more the 500 employees have access to some paid sick leave, with an average of eight days offered — well short of the 14-day quarantine prescribed for people who may have the coronavirus.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that big companies should step up and pay.
In a worst-case scenario, 6.7 million U.S. workers could be left without any sick pay at all, according to a calculation by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank. That’s less than 5 percent of the nation’s nearly 159 million workers.
Here’s a rundown of who qualifies for sick and paid leave according to the legislation.
• Employers with 500 or fewer workers have to provide paid sick leave and family leave.
Small and midsized companies are required to provide two weeks days of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees affected by the coronavirus who have worked at the company for at least a month.
Sick leave is to be paid at the usual pay rate. Family leave is to be paid at two-thirds of the usual pay rate. The House capped paid sick leave at $511 per day and paid family leave at $200 per day.
In other words, paid sick leave would fully compensate employees earning up to about $130,000 a year for that two-week period, and paid family and medical leave would fully compensate employees earning up to about $75,000 a year for the three-month period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.
• There is a loophole for small businesses on paid family and medical leave: Employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption through the Labor Department from having to provide paid family and medical leave if it “would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
About 35 million people work for small businesses in the United States, and 30.5 million of those workers currently have no paid family leave, according to the Center for American Progress.
• Government employers must provide paid sick and family leave. The House bill says all government employers must provide these benefits to workers. The same is also true for any union workers who are part of a “multi-employer” agreement.
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• Gig workers get a new form of paid sick and family leave. Experts say one of the most innovative parts of the House bill is that it gives gig workers similar benefits to Americans working at small and midsize companies.
People who are self-employed but work for another employer — for example, Lyft and Uber drivers, caterers or planners for major events such as South by Southwest — are eligible for a tax credit of up to two weeks of sick pay at their average pay and 12 weeks of family leave pay at two-thirds their normal rate.
• The benefits are in place for a year.
• The bill says part-time employees also get paid sick leave equivalent to the number of hours they typically work during a two-week period. So if a person usually works 20 hours a week, he or she is eligible for up to 40 hours of pay.
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