Employers may be required to provide seven days of paid sick time per year under a bill introduced in Congress.  The measure, titled the Pandemic Protection for Workers, Families, and Businesses Act (H.R. 4092/S. 2790), was introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in the House and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) in the Senate on the heels of another emergency paid sick leave bill proposed earlier.  If passed, the Pandemic Protection Act would be a temporary law that expires two years from enactment.

Under the proposal, employees would be entitled to paid sick time off due to a contagious illness or to care for a child with a contagious illness.  It seeks to contain the spread of H1N1 and other influenza strains by ensuring sick employees can stay home from work without financial sacrifice from loss of work.

The Pandemic Protection Act would require most employers with 15 or more employees to provide full-time employees with seven days of paid sick time to be used for the following reasons:

  • The employee or his or her child is experiencing symptoms of a contagious illness, such as the 2009 H1N1 virus or other influenza-like illness, including time off for medical and preventive care;
  • A health authority or health care provider has determined that the employee’s presence at work or the child’s presence in the community would expose others to a contagious illness; or
  • The employee’s worksite or the child’s school, child care or early childhood program has been closed due to a contagious influenza-like illness.

Part-time employees would be entitled to a pro-rata share of paid sick days.  Employees must have worked for their employer for 30 days before they are covered under the bill.

If the Act becomes law, employers’ existing paid time off (PTO) policies may need to be modified.  According to the bill, employers who already provide seven days of paid sick leave that “may be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as the purposes and conditions [covered in the legislation] shall not be required to provide additional paid sick time…”  It is unclear what effect the legislation would have on PTO plans that allot a certain amount of time off without specifying the permitted purposes of use.  The proposal also leaves unanswered the question whether an employee who has exhausted his or her PTO allotment would be entitled to paid leave for the reasons in the bill.

Regardless of the outcome of this paid sick leave measure, employers should develop and implement contingency plans to address widespread absences due to pandemic illness in the workplace.

Carrie Jabinsky drafted this blog post.