The following is not hard to imagine:
You wake up tomorrow morning, and someone in your house is sick. Maybe it’s your third grader with a stomach bug. Maybe it’s you who has the thermometer up past 100 degrees.
For many, this is a bearable inconvenience. We have sick days to play with, or we have an employer who allows us to work from home and tend to our sick youngster.
But for too many people across the country, an illness at home means worrying about losing money or, worse, getting fired.
About half of U.S. workers have access to paid leave if they or a family member gets sick, according to national surveys. Even more troubling, the availability of sick leave, paid or not, is more scarce for the low-income workers who are most vulnerable.
The federal government only helps a little. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave. That law applies to only about 60 percent of U.S. workers, however, and it doesn’t require the medical leave to be paid. That makes the U.S. the only industrialized country that doesn’t requires any sort of paid leave for workers.
That’s why cities and states, at the urging of family advocates, are beginning to contemplate requiring businesses to offer some form of sick leave. Charlotte has no such policy and no plans under consideration, because North Carolina preemptively banned its cities in 2013 from passing such ordinances. As for action at the state level, a pair of sister bills never made it out of committee in the most recent N.C. House and Senate sessions.
We don’t expect the conservatives who currently control the General Assembly to approve any plan that they think might burden businesses. That leaves Congress to decide if promoting stable and healthy families is worth a sick leave mandate that would surely make business owners uncomfortable.
We think it is, with a caveat: Don’t go the path of Washington, D.C., where council members are proposing an extravagant 16 weeks of universal paid family leave annually for workers. The plan, which the Obama administration supports, would be paid for with a tax on businesses, even those that already offer paid sick leave.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, along with Senate Democrats, is proposing a similarly flawed national paid sick leave plan to be paid for with Social Security taxes.
A more reasonable approach would use as a blueprint state and city plans that allow workers at companies with more than 10 employees to earn an hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a max of 40-60 hours worth of sick time earned annually. Companies with fewer than 10 employees could be required to do the same, or as a compromise, those companies could let employees earn unpaid but job-protected sick time.
Critics say such policies hurt businesses, but most large companies already offer these benefits, because they understand the value of having workers who aren’t burdened with no-win decisions about sick days. Smaller companies would get the same benefit, and they won’t be driven out of business by a modest medical leave mandate.
Instead, lawmakers would be making a smart, humane investment in workers – and they would protect the families that need it most.