Human Resources News & Insights

Feds may require you to provide paid sick days

The feds may soon force you to provide five paid sick days for every employee. 

A bill was introduced last week that, if passed, would require employees to provide at least five paid sick days to workers with a contagious illness who are sent home or told to stay home.

Workers deciding to stay home on their own, claiming to be sick, would not be guaranteed paid sick days.

The legislation, called the Emergency Influenza Containment Act, was introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. It would apply to businesses with 15 or more employees and would take effect 15 days after being signed — and expire after two years.

Reason for the bill: Miller says he’s concerned that more than 40 million workers don’t have paid sick days.

What are the chances of sickness spreading? A sick employee reporting to work infects one in 10 co-workers, says to the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, 39% of all private-sector workers don’t have paid sick days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And out of the lowest 25% of wage earners, 63% don’t have paid sick days.

Hearings on the bill have been scheduled for next week.

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  • Todd

    So, how does this new ruling affect those companies that have PTO banks where vacation, holiday and sick time are in one bank?

  • Christine

    So the employee has to drag their feverish body to work, be declared contagious, and then be sent home? How many people have they already infected at work and during the commute?? What we need is unconditional sick/personal days so that parents can stay home to care for sick children/family members/selves. Not somethat that requires HR departments to perform a medical diagnosis.

  • Jenny

    Amen, Christine. If there is to be a requirement, it should be for all sick, not the ones who come in and infect the office so they can be sent home.

  • JUDY CUMMINGS

    We offer employees 70 hours a week – can be used for self / immediate family / parents ,if needed.
    Onlky need a medical excuse if employee is considered contagious.
    We have 120 plus employees and they are very grateful for this benefit.

  • JP Prichard

    Or, better yet, they set aside a part of their paycheck into an optional leave bank.

    They took the job without a sick leave benefit; if they want more, they are free to negotiate.

    Requiring the employers to pay for this is completely asinine. Higher net costs will result in layoffs, guaranteed.

  • Cindy

    Great! I came in sick two days this week because I had no paid time left. We have no sick days at my place of employment. It’s wrong.

  • Sophia

    I agree with Christine. “Workers deciding to stay home on their own, claiming to be sick, would not be guaranteed paid sick days.” How is HR supposed to audit and control that? Some companies may ask for doctor notes for extended illness but are we going to start treating our employees like students? Asking them to bring in sick notes from their parents or doctors. Sick days should cover the sick, period.

    I’m continually disappointed by companies who immediately start complaining that any required sick time is going to negatively affect their general “PTO” policies. If you have a general PTO plan which includes sick, personal and vacation days all in one, try stepping outside the box for just a minute to consider some alternatives. You could separating sick days from vacation and personal days – maybe just for the next coming year. If you just have one way of tracking PTO, try breaking it down a bit. Add a line to your timesheets that designates “PTO-SICK.” It might actually prove beneficial to see how many employees actually take time off for sickness versus personal/vacation time. OR consider adding a temporary policy that will provide sick days for employees who contract a contagious illness during high risk seasons such as the one we are in now. Or maybe, just maybe, think of just adding sick days.

    Most companies in this country don’t do nearly enough to address our growing issues with work-life balance. We work more than most other countries and yet we have no federal requirements for paid holidays, leave or time off. Adding sick days temporarily to address a current epidemic such as H1N1 or permanently to make sure your employees are taking care of themselves is not going to send your business into the ground. Consider what it may do for employee health and moral. I’d like to see HR professionals start standing up for the human side of business once again rather than immediately jumping to the cost and administrative implications.

  • The federal government needs to keep out of the private sector and concentrate on national defense, foreign relations and international issues.

  • CLane

    I came to the office all but 4 out of 40 hours last week from a stomach virus – not the flu…Thought it was something else because I NEVER get sick except for sinus infections once a year. The boss made me go to the doc. So I get screwed because the 3 hours I was out were on a Friday afternoon and I can only make up time during the week the absence occurs. Yes, I know it’s probably generous that I can even make it up. But with no vacation time or sick days (still a newby), it just sucks that I have to have a short paycheck.

  • JP Prichard

    That’s an interesting perspective, Sophia. Nice to know your company can handle not paying attention to budgetary concerns. Not everyone has that luxury right now. Or, depending on the industry, at a any time.

    I work in a unionized, municipal environment with little control over agency revenues. The benefits the employee groups want, they’ve already negotiated. If they wanted a different benefit mix that included more sick leave, they have the power to get it. That being said, we’re constantly on the lookout for ways to either expand existing benefits for the same cost, and offer as many voluntary benefits as we can handle administratively.

    We are currently operating at a budget deficit. Over the next two years, because we know what our revenues will be and CANNOT change them, I’ll be laying off 25 employees to bring us back into balance. There is no other expense left to cut.

    If we give each of our current 150 employees FIVE additional days off, that comes to 750 days, or 2 1/2 FTEs. That’s 3 additional people that won’t be able to pay their mortgages, because I’ll have to lay them off.

    Sophia, you want me to stand up for the human side? If you don’t pay attention to your budget and “costs”, you can’t possibly do right by your people. Destroy 3 people financially just so the people that get sick won’t take a minor hit? Not on your life.

  • MichaelE

    I’m with you JP. You have to consider all factors. We recently shifted back to an all-in-one PTO plan and our employees are more than happy about it. It’s much easier for us to track as well. We’re a company with 1800+ employees so we have to count ever penny. Of course, had we thrown caution to the wind and only focused on the “human side” we’d still be a staff of 11 or not in business at all. Now, we provide livelihoods for several hundred of our neighbors.

  • HR Director

    Sophia – why do you think we went to “general PTO policies”? To get away from the mindless bureaucy you’re suggesting we reimplement. We would just tell people that they would have to take the 5 days out of their existing PTO unless the law specifically prevented us from doing that. Another case of people who have no idea how these things work making the rules – they need input from SHRM.

  • Cindy

    Human Resources has lost the “human” side of the profession because it is being slammed into our heads that we have to be “strategic partners” in order to be successful. That would include just looking at the financial bottom line and nothing else. I think that stinks. I think we are going to have to rename the Human Resources profession sometime in the future if this trend continues.

    I don’t understand why Human Resources can’t remain the middle ground for both the company and the employees. It IS possible but I think many HR professionals see being a “strategic partner” as an elevated status.

    We should be treating our employees as well as we can. After all, without them who would get the job done? Giving people a few sicks days is the “Human” thing to do.

  • Cindy

    to David:

    If the government never got involved in the private sector, people would still be working in sweat shops.

  • CLane

    I left an earlier message regarding the need for days off…and I’m the Human Resources Manager of the company for heaven’s sake…

  • Scott

    For the comment from Sophia about work-life balance. Companies have implemented strategies to combat the ever critical work-life balance, it has been called relocation of manufacturing facilities to countries that actually have people that want to make a pay check and have an improved way of life. We are not entitled to paid days off, sick leave, and happy time; employers provide opportunities to people. We have everything that we could possibly ever need to be happy around us, but it always seems that somebody feels like they need a little more from either their employer or the government to help meet their needs. These things will keep coming and coming, until we finally make our country unfriendly to conduct business in.

    You know the conditions of employment when you get hired on, if you don’t like them, go someplace else and work where they offer those benefits that you believe you need. People like to sit around and piss, bitch and moan about what they need, when they need to set aside a savings emergency fund and plan ahead.

  • Cindy

    Scott:

    If a company doesn’t have people to do their work, they won’t have a company. These people are important to the company’s success or failure. They needed to be treated like the important asset that they are. IN my opinion, have a few days for sick days is realistic.

  • Scott

    Cindy,

    We already have FMLA and state leave programs that cover people for these types of things, unpaid obviously. Why make employers have higher costs, I don’t know what business you are in, but I can truly tell you that we have struggled this past year and that adding a program that could potentially cost us $450,000 on an annual basis as business is not fiscally or humanistically a good idea, as we may have to reduce staffing to cover the costs of another government mandated program.

    Also, we place a high value on our employee’s well being, we have asked employees to stay home when they are sick and offer them opportunities to make up lost time. However, we don’t want mandated government programs that increase our costs, I guess I have been under the mistaken assumption that people are respnsible and can take care of themselves.

  • Cindy

    And I’m under the assumption that employees should be rewarded for a job well done. Sick days are not a hand out or entitlement. It’s a good business practice to be able to hire and keep good people. Scott, you act like an employer is doing it’s employees a favor by paying them and offering benefits. What about the employee’s “favor” to the employer for helping them to grow and maintain their business.?

  • Scott

    Cindy,

    We take very good care of our employees. We offer med., vision and dental, in which we pay the majority of the premium for them and their dependents, offer a 401(k) program, defined benefit pension plan, provide $25K of life insurance at no cost, paid vacation and other misc. benefits, and have a very low turn over rate of employees.

    However, you have an attitude of being owed paid sick days like they are right of passage and should be mandated by the government. We have functioned pretty well as a Country for the past 200 years as a functional society, without paid sick days. Please don’t try to muddy the waters by stating we don’t care about our people and stick to the issue. The fact is that government mandated programs to provide paid sick days is not fiscally responsible to a business and it should be the place of business to make that decision. If people don’t stand up against these ridiculous government proposals, businesses will continue to leave this country.

  • CLane

    I think ya’ll need to clarify what issue you are actually discussing. The flu-mandated sick leave or sick leave in general…the way I understand it is that the government is looking at 2 options – 5 days for the flu-related illnesses in flu season or something and 7 days of sick leave in general…if I’m not correct, I apologize…

  • Glenda

    I work for a company that offers so many sick days a year to use for yourself or family. When those sick days roll around all of a sudden half the work force is sick. Then when they are truly sick they have nothing left.

  • HRD

    Glenda – sounds like a good reason to go to PTO

  • Cindy

    I don’t think offering three sick days to employees is excessive or would break the bank. Most of the time, it is all someone would need. I worked for a company that paid up to five weeks vaca, 5 personal days, 10 sick days and almost every holiday off that you can imagine. My assistant thought it was her “right” to use all 10 sick days whether she was sick or not. I agree that is the wrong attitude BUT would three lousy paid days ruin the company?

  • scott

    Let individual businesses decide if they choose to offer paid sick days, not a government mandate to provide 5 sick days for 2 years while we deal with the Swine Flu. If they do this program, it will only be the start of more demands on already struggling employers.

    Also Cindy, what line of work was the business in that gave all of the vacation time, holidays and sick days? Was it a corporation, private business or working for the government? Also, how have they done during this economic downturn, have they laid off people?

  • Cindy

    Scott:

    It was a non-profit agency and I have no clue on how they are doing….I don’t work there any longer.
    And don’t ask me why I left if it was so great. I have never said that all companies should be offer that much time off. I am only saying that they should offer SOMETHING.

  • to: Cindy

    Let’s get back to basics…the purpose of a company is to make money. If they decide not to provide benefits, then that is their right as a business. Have you considered the other side of the coin? Maybe the government should require all businesses not to provide any benefits, then everyone is on an equal standing and can decide on what insurance they want to carry.

    A company hires people to do the work of the company and in exchange for their work the people receive compensation. The company is not a person and thus should remain impartial as to the benefits question. All it wants to know is if the employee is present or absent. If the employee works, he gets paid and if he is not there contributing, then he gets nothing. This idea of benefits was added many years ago to attract workers, it is not an employee’s right. If employee does not like the compensation package then they have the perfect right to go to another place of employment.

    You are getting onto a slippery slope advocating these government requirements. The next step could well be the government will be telling companies what they have to pay each person…oh, this will work out well for the person who actually accomplishes their work only to get paid the same as the sluffer at the next workstation as they have the same job title. Sounds to me like we are drifting into the scenario of “1984”.

  • Cindy

    David:

    So you are saying that the company offer no benefits and let the employees purchase it themselves. So you would have the executives/management making enough money to do so but the poor file clerk who gets paid minimum wage wouldn’t be able to afford them. Oh, yeah,,,sounds right to me. So only the people who make more money can afford to stay healthy or even live? I can anticipate your next remark…”We’ll they should better themselves then and get a better paying job.” THey can’t even afford health insurance but they can afford an education? Please…be realistic. What happened to “this is America and we should help take care of one another.” I guess that’s true only if it doesn’t come our of YOUR pocket.

  • Cindy…

    Where did you get the “this is America and we should take care of one another”? The Constitution guarantees “life, liberty and the pursue of happiness” and says nothing about one person giving to another under compulsion.

    The “no benefits” idea does not penalize those who do not make as much money. The company would simply pay the money to the employees which they now donate to the insurance company and their internal coordinators. It would be a cost savings to them as they would not have to deal with the claims, personnel and other headaches which arise from providing the plans. And it would give everyone a chance to choose their own insurance or whatever they wanted to do with the money. It is a win-win situation. Cutting out the middle man (the company), in and of itself, would save money. Insurance companies would then have to compete for everyone’s business resulting in lower prices. Free choice and capitalism at its best.

  • Cindy

    David:

    Did you give blood or money after 9-11? Would you help a little old lady getting mugged in the street or try to save a child from a fire? Would you let your neighbor die of cancer, if you knew you had the means to help him?

    And I don’t agree…the “no benefits” idea WOULD penalize those who make little money because company would most likely NOT pay the insurance money directly to the employee…it would go into their pockets as profit.

  • How can you on one hand extol the virtues of American people and then on the other doubt the honesty and integrity of America’s companies which are comprised of those very same people? Yes, there are a few companies which have run amuck but government is not the answer. Tell me how many government-run programs are running well: Social security? Medicare? Food stamps? Post office? Responsibility and accountability will be found only in the private sector. Private business much more likely and able to make changes to their own programs to meet the needs of their employees. The smart ones attract good people and keep them. Under the government programs, you are just another face or number among many.

  • Cindy

    Apparantly, you CAN’T trust that companies will do good by their employees or we wouldn’t of needed unions in the first place and then laws to protect the employees. I’m sorry but there are way too many executives/owners who only think about their own pockets. Without SOMEONE watching over them, they will abuse the very people who make their company successful. You are right about the smart ones will attract good people and keep them but unfortunately, no all companies are smart and unfortunately, people will put up with alot just to have a job. I can predict your next comment….”We’ll, they can just move on to other jobs then.” Really? IN this economy?

    And what does the “virtues of American people” have to do with American companies? You don’t make any sense here at all.

  • Maureen

    I think all of you have lost the intention of this act. It is to stop the spread of a pandemic. History has taught us. If sick people are around health ones, the chances of the health one getting sick is one out of 10. How long will it take to wipe out your companies. It is not a benefit, but an option, to prevent the spread of dangeous disease. The N1H1 virus scare could have been a real threat. If it had and you or your loved ones died, because a coworker brought the disease to work, because he/she couldn’t afford to pay the rent if they didn’t, where would your feelings be on this then. Remember it’s not IF it When will a disease like this happen.

  • Don

    So in order to satisfy the requirement, I would need to split the 4 weeks of PTO that I currently give employees to 3 weeks of PTO and 1 week of sick leave, thereby forcing the majority of my employees who are rarely sick to either lie about being sick in order to get their 4 weeks off or they would just lose one week of PTO each year. Wow what a concept. Will probably save me money because employees will use less time off, but it will certainly make my healthy employees unhappy about losing that week of PTO.