Yet the United States remains one of 11 countries, and the only wealthy country, without federally paid sick leave. During the pandemic, most wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have temporarily extended their sick leave to cover people in quarantine and the self-employed, and to exempt employers from paying for sick leave themselves.
In March 2020, the start of the pandemic, it was the first time the United States offered full paid leave. The program expired in December of the same year. It gave two weeks to workers who were sick or needed to look after someone who was, and 12 weeks to look after children whose schools were closed. Employers were fully reimbursed in the form of a payroll tax credit.
The furlough excluded more than half of workers in the private sector, including those in companies with more than 500 workers and many small businesses. Even so, there was evidence it slowed the spread of Covid. A study posted in Health Affairs compared new Covid cases in states that already had paid sick leave with those that had gained it thanks to the new law. After adjusting for factors such as testing and lockdowns, they estimated the new furlough prevented 15,000 cases a day at national scale. Another study, by Kaiser Family Foundationfound that paid sick leave increased vaccination rates.
“High-quality data clearly show that infection declines when workers have access to sick leave,” said Nicolas Ziebarth, an economist at Cornell who was one of the researchers in the first study. “It prevents contagious workers from coming to work.”
Democrats have long called for permanent paid leave for a variety of reasons, including illness, a new baby and family care. Initially, President Biden’s big social spending bill called for 12 weeks of furlough. But that plan didn’t get enough support in Congress, including from Republicans.
For now, Democrats have scaled back their ambitions to focus on a temporary program providing emergency Covid leave. They hope this smaller version is more likely to get Republican votes. The first round of Covid paid leave, in 2020, was passed under President Trump with bipartisan support.
The US Chamber of Commerce does not support adopting paid leave amid a crisis, said Marc Freedman, vice president for employment policy, and opposes the use of a measure funding to achieve this, rather than debate in Congress as a stand-alone policy. .