Pandemic highlights the need for universal paid sick and family leave as well as a healthcare system that works for everyone

With the Trump Administration slow to recognize the seriousness of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), also known as SARS II – and even to make tests available to identify people potentially infected with the highly contagious disease – State-level officials have stepped into the breach to exercise vital leadership. For example, New York recently adopted a law that provides paid sick and family leave during the current public health crisis based on the understanding that the public is only as safe and healthy as the least safe and healthy person. State Senator Jessica Ramos, who sponsored the law now in effect in New York, stated that "by providing each New Yorker with guaranteed paid sick leave, we’re no longer forcing people to choose between their health and paying for food, rent or, utilities."

The amount of paid sick leave that employers must now provide in New York depends on the size of the employer. Companies with 100 or more employees must provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave to their employees “during any mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation” issued by public health officials to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. Companies with between 11 and 99 employees must give their employees at least 5 days of paid sick leave and then give employees access to paid family leave and short-term disability benefits. Companies with 10 or fewer employees and less than $1 million in revenue must at least give their employees access to paid family leave and short-term disability benefits.

The leadership of numerous other States, including in Minnesota as well as in California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, is also developing robust paid sick leave and/or paid family leave provisions. For example, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently issued an executive order establishing paid leave for State employees. Under this initiative, employees absent from work for a reason related to the Coronavirus – including caring for children or other family members – shall be provided paid leave to cover their absence.

The Trump Administration’s response continues to lag behind and remains inadequate in any event. Although The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was recently signed into law to provide certain employees access to paid leave in the context of the pandemic, the law excludes many employees from protection. Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this new Federal law heralded by the Trump Administration exempts large corporations from the requirement to give the required 2 weeks of paid leave to employees who are unable to work because of the pandemic’s impact. In addition, the Trump Administration’s approach enables the politically appointed Secretary of the United States Department of Labor to exempt companies with less than 50 employees from the paid leave requirements.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the Trump Administration’s loopholes will exclude millions of people around the country from protection. Only approximately 10 percent of essential employees, those who are required to continue working during the Coronavirus pandemic, work for an employer that must provide paid leave under the Trump Administration’s approach. Making matters worse, many of those employees also lack healthcare coverage because of resistance to universal healthcare coverage at the Federal level. That the Coronavirus is so contagious makes these deficiencies especially troubling – and dangerous.