Governor Wolf Proposes Paid Sick Leave Legislation in Pennsylvania

By Kathryn Olon

In light of continued concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf is encouraging lawmakers to pass legislation that would require paid sick leave for Pennsylvania employees. 

For the many Pennsylvanians who are working paycheck to paycheck, there is the difficult choice between paying their bills this month or staying home when sick to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.  “Workers should not have to choose between their job and their health,” said Wolf in a press conference on August 29. According to Wolf, a shocking 42% of Americans do not have a single paid day off. This often leads to workers who are feeling ill opting to go to work instead of staying home to rest. 

Enacting paid sick leave legislation would help approximately 400,000 Pennsylvanians.  In particular, this law would provide assistance to low-wage workers who all too often are required to work when sick, putting not only their own health at risk but also the health of their co-workers and the customers they serve.  According to the Center for Research and Public Policy, in 2015, more than half of food industry workers in the United States and Canada went to work sick because they were concerned about income. This problem is only exacerbated during a pandemic.

In March, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provides paid sick and family leave for coronavirus-related work interruptions.  However, the FFCRA only applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and those with less than 50 employees are able to claim a “Small Business Exemption” to providing such leave. Unsurprisingly, this federal law still leaves a lot of employees in a precarious position, particularly the 48% of the American workforce employed by companies with more than 500 workers. 

It is expected that if Wolf’s proposed legislation were passed in Pennsylvania, it would look similar to the federal FFCRA.  The law would allow for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and would cover not only those who are being treated for coronavirus symptoms, but also those whose children’s childcare has been affected by the virus.  Participating employers would be reimbursed through tax credits.

But despite the support from Governor Wolf and several Pennsylvania senators, efforts to mandate sick leave for Pennsylvania businesses have faced resistance from state legislators.  These opponents cite cost and government overreach as reasons why this law should not be passed.  Further, for businesses that are already suffering from the economic slump induced by the coronavirus, mandated paid sick leave could force these businesses to close their doors for good. Currently, thirteen states as well as Washington D.C. have enacted laws requiring paid sick leave.  Although a few states have temporarily broadened access to paid sick leave in response to the coronavirus, none have adopted permanent and broad paid sick leave measures.

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