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Pandemic Fuels Ongoing Debate Over Paid Sick Leave Policies In U.S., Texas

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The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't require employers to give their workers paid time off when they're sick — an urgent concern during the health crisis, especially when one of the main directives from city officials has been "stay home."

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act in effect through the end of 2020 requires employers to offer up to 12 weeks of leave -- two weeks paid, then 10 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

There are exemptions for emergency responders and health care providers. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can also abstain if it would jeopardize their operations.

At the end of April, Gov. Greg Abbott announced new Texas Workforce Commission rules which allow employees to stay home if they are high risk, care for a high-risk family member or need to quarantine, and maintain eligibility for unemployment benefits. 

However, the state rules do not provide job protection. When an employee is ready to go back to work, their employer is not obligated to put them back on the payroll.

Who is eligible for paid sick leave benefits under the current federal legislation? Why are certain workers not covered? What are the biggest challenges for implemention and how are businesses held accountable?

Who is and isn’t getting leave generally and what’s at risk considering the COVID-19 threat? What does research show about  paid sick leave policies and overall health outcomes?

What are the arguments for regulating paid leave on the federal, state or municipal level? What are the pros and cons of a nationwide mandate versus localized policies?

The debate over paid sick leave has been raging for years and is often painted broadly as being anti-business. Can policies like these be both pro-business and pro-health, instead of pitting employers against workers and economic stability against public health outcomes? Is there room for compromise? 

Guests:

  • Joyce Beebe, public finance fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy
  • Annie Spilman, Texas State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business
  • Sarah Jane Glynn, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, July 28.

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Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon
Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.