Nearly half of Louisiana workers lack access to paid sick days. And, low wage workers are two and three times less likely to have access to paid sick days than higher wage workers. This means those who struggle the most to make ends meet routinely face an excruciating choice between caring for themselves and their families when they get sick or keeping their job. Louisiana can do better.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought national attention to this and other longstanding needs for stronger worker protections and benefits. The ability to stay home when you’re sick without fear of losing your job or facing disciplinary action is essential for workers to comply with Centers for Disease Control guidelines during the current public health crisis. It’s also an important policy to help safeguard and promote public health before a health crisis begins, and a basic worker protection that should be available to all workers regardless of how much they are paid.
Yet, many low wage jobs that put workers in direct contact with the public and therefore at greater risk for disease exposure, are among those least likely to have access to paid sick days. For example, restaurant and retail store workers are among the least likely to be able to take a sick day, though they face high exposure rates to the flu and other contagious diseases, like COVID-19.
Recent federal legislation will help make up for the absence of a comprehensive national or state sick leave policy during the pandemic. But the paid lead provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act are only temporary. Workers need access to paid leave any time they get sick, not just during public health emergencies.
Louisiana legislators have a chance to fix this problem when they return to work this spring
Two bills have been introduced that would help guarantee that workers don’t have to choose between their health and their paycheck. One of the bills would put Louisiana in the company of 12 states and the District of Columbia by establishing a statewide sick day policy for their workers. The other bill would lift the state preemption law that bans cities and parishes from enacting their own sick leave policies, which 18 counties and cities across the country have already done.
Access to paid sick days are an important part of state preparedness for public health emergencies and safeguarding public health more generally. They are also a basic protection that will help workers and their families rebuild stronger and more securely after Covid-19 knowing that if they get sick, they have the time away from work to get better.
– by Stacey Roussel
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