How the New Emergency Paid Leave Benefits Could Impact Workers

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides emergency short-term paid sick leave and longer-term paid family leave for workers affected by coronavirus. The new law will assist some workers who are unable to work because of a coronavirus-related quarantine or illness, they are caring for someone who is sick from coronavirus or quarantined, or their child’s school or day care is closed by providing up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at partial or full pay. Separately, eligible workers whose child’s school or day care is closed may receive an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave at partial pay. In addition to the public health benefits of encouraging sick workers to stay home, these paid leave benefits will provide needed financial relief to some people who are unable to work during this pandemic. The law, however, does not address the paid leave needs of workers at businesses with more than 500 employees, federal employees (for paid family leave), and those who could be exempted because they are health care workers, emergency responders, or they work for an employer with fewer than 50 employees (for paid family leave). We take a closer look at how the new benefits could play out for workers at “essential” businesses in the current environment.

How the new paid leave benefits could work for…

A tradesperson at a mid-size company

Julie is an electrician for a facilities maintenance company with 100 employees. Her elderly mother is quarantined due coronavirus and Julie is her only caregiver. Her company does not offer a voluntary paid sick leave benefit to its employees, but they are required to offer emergency paid sick leave under the new law. This means that Julie is able to take two weeks off work at two-thirds of her regular pay, up to $200 per day. Being a moderate-income worker, going without her full pay puts a strain on her finances, but after two weeks, her mother has recovered and Julie returns to work.

A delivery driver for a large company

Marcus is a delivery driver for a business with 5,000 employees. A single father, his 8-year-old daughter’s school has closed and he lacks alternate childcare. Although his employer has more than 500 employees and is not required to offer emergency paid sick or family leave, the company voluntarily provides a paid leave program. He receives his full pay while taking the two weeks that he has accrued, but his daughter’s school is closed for the rest of the school year. As a minimum wage employee, going without a paycheck for an extended period of time puts him in a precarious financial situation. He also risks losing his job if he does not return to work. For now, Marcus is drawing down savings as he searches for someone to care for his young daughter so he can return to work.

A health care worker

Cameron is a respiratory therapist at a community hospital and was diagnosed with COVID-19. Fortunately, he has a mild case, but he cannot go to work and put other people at risk. As a health care worker, he has been exempted from eligibility for emergency paid sick leave; however, the state where he lives requires employers, including the hospital, to provide one week of fully-paid sick leave. After a week, Cameron is recovering, but still can’t work and must take unpaid leave until he’s well enough to return to work.

Where are the gaps?

While the scenarios described here are hypothetical, these situations could reflect the actual experiences of many workers across the nation who are facing the need for paid sick and family leave. While the COVID-19 relief bills offer important financial supports to many workers, gaps in eligibility for emergency paid leave mean that many other workers will not benefit from these new protections. Workers at businesses with fewer than 50 employees (for paid family leave) or more than 500 employees, federal employees (for paid family leave), health care workers, and emergency responders, in particular, could have to go without pay should they need to take time off work because of the pandemic. For some eligible workers, the dollar limits on benefits and the relatively short duration of paid leave will pose financial challenges. In the short run, these new paid leave benefits will provide a baseline level of income stability for some workers and facilitate social distancing so that those who are sick or need to care for a family member can better afford to stay home. However, the emergency paid leave program is temporary, and while the need for paid leave may not be as urgent after the pandemic subsides, absent comprehensive, permanent paid leave legislation, many workers will again lack these wage protections when they need time off work for an illness or to care for a sick family member.

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