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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
HTML EMBED:
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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. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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