Home News Paid sick leave sticks after many pandemic protections vanish – The Mercury...

Paid sick leave sticks after many pandemic protections vanish – The Mercury News


Zach Dyer | KFF Health News (TNS)

Bill Thompson’s wife had never seen him smile with confidence. For the first 20 years of their relationship, an infection in his mouth robbed him of teeth, one by one.

“I didn’t have any teeth to smile with,” the 53-year-old of Independence, Missouri, said.

Thompson said he dealt with throbbing toothaches and painful swelling in his face from abscesses for years working as a cook at Burger King. He desperately needed to see a dentist but said he couldn’t afford to take time off without pay. Missouri is one of many states that do not require employers to provide paid sick leave.

So, Thompson would swallow Tylenol and push through the pain as he worked over the hot grill.

“Either we go to work, have a paycheck,” Thompson said. “Or we take care of ourselves. We can’t take care of ourselves because, well, this vicious circle that we’re stuck in.”

In a nation that was sharply divided about government health mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has been warming to the idea of government rules providing for paid sick leave.

Before the pandemic, 10 states and the District of Columbia had laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. Since then, ColoradoNew YorkNew MexicoIllinois and Minnesota have passed laws offering some kind of paid time off for illness. Oregon and California expanded previous paid leave laws. In MissouriAlaska, and Nebraska, advocates are pushing to put the issue on the ballot this fall.

The U.S. is one of nine countries that do not guarantee paid sick leave, according to data compiled by the World Policy Analysis Center.

In response to the pandemic, Congress passed the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion acts. These temporary measures allowed employees to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave for COVID-related illness and caregiving. But the provisions expired in 2021.

“When the pandemic hit, we finally saw some real political will to solve the problem of not having federal paid sick leave,” said economist Hilary Wething.

Wething co-authored a recent Economic Policy Institute report on the state of sick leave in the United States. It found that more than half, 61%, of the lowest-paid workers can’t get time off for an illness.

“I was really surprised by how quickly losing pay — because you’re sick — can translate into immediate and devastating cuts to a family’s household budget,” she said.

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