COVID-19

Coronavirus is pressuring some companies to offer paid sick leave

Kimberly Adams Mar 12, 2020
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Walmart announced it would offer paid sick leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Coronavirus is pressuring some companies to offer paid sick leave

Kimberly Adams Mar 12, 2020
Walmart announced it would offer paid sick leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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The White House and congressional leaders are hammering out the details of a package to help limit the economic effects of COVID-19. Democrats have proposed requiring companies to give workers affected by the virus paid sick time.

People without that paid time struggle to take off work when they are feeling ill, and several companies are already changing their policies. 

Walmart announced this week it would start offering paid sick leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19. And Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden, sped up its plan to give workers paid sick leave. 

“At moments like this — whether it’s coronavirus, or at one time in the past H1N1 or flu epidemics — we know that people pay closer attention when these issues are impacting their daily lives,” said Sarah Fleisch Fink, with the National Partnership for Women and Families, which advocates for paid sick leave.

Fink specifies that this is different from a block of “paid time off” workers can use for any reason. 

“Somebody could have access to vacation time, or PTO or annual leave,” she said. “But often that time needs to be requested in advance, [and] workers can be penalized for using the time through absence control policies.”

But even for companies that want to offer paid sick leave, they worry about how much it will cost. Nicolas Ziebarth at Cornell University has been studying just that. 

“We find that newly covered employees take on average two days a year, and we also find that labor costs do increase,” Ziebarth said. “But the increase is relatively modest. It’s like 21 cents per hour worked.”

Big companies like Darden or Walmart can manage that, but it can be harder for small businesses with fewer employees to fill in missing shifts. 

That said, closing down because of infection can cost a lot more.

Holly Wade, director of research at the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said in this tight labor market, paid sick leave can be an attractive recruiting tool. 

“They’re looking to fill open positions, and they also don’t want to lose productivity in having a sick employee in their establishment,” Wade said

And more and more businesses are choosing to give their employees paid sick time — especially as COVID-19 infections spread. 

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