RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Public health officials are asking people with symptoms of the coronavirus to stay home but for some that means not paying the bills.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has asked private businesses to review and, if possible, revise their paid time off policies during this pandemic.
Vanessa Thompson, 29, said she’s never had paid sick leave in her five years as a home care provider.
“It’s complicated to choose between your health and your income when it comes to things like coronavirus,” Thompson said. “When you’re concerned about bills, to just say ‘I won’t go to work’ is never really an option.”
Thompson said many of her clients are elderly. Experts say those 65 and older are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening symptoms from COVID-19.
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says Thompson is one of 1.2 million in the state working without paid sick leave.
“Forty seven percent of nursing aides and people who care for the sick and elderly have no paid sick days,” said the center’s Executive Director Kim Bobo. “This is a crisis for workers and for the rest of us here in Virginia.”
Bobo backed a bill that would’ve required Virginia businesses with 15 employees or more to provide up to five days of paid sick leave. It would’ve also mandated smaller businesses to offer up to two days of unpaid time off.
Bobo said 11 states and about 30 localities have already adopted a similar mandate.
The bill in Virginia failed in the final hours of the General Assembly’s legislative session. If passed, it wouldn’t have went into effect until January 2021.
“Frankly in this coronavirus moment we believe that employers should voluntarily comply now,” Bobo said.
State Sen. Chap Petersen, a Democrat, said the bill mainly died due to budgetary concerns as lawmakers were under pressure to finish their two-year plan.
“We give sick leave to all of our full-time employees but we have 8,000 part-time employees and if we were going to give them paid sick leave that was going to be millions of dollars not budgeted,” Petersen said.
“And what I don’t want to do is put this as a burden on small businesses when a lot of them are struggling to survive right now,” he added.
As coronavirus cases continue to climb, the federal government is making moves to expand paid sick leave.
In his address Wednesday night, President Donald Trump said he’s taking “unprecedented” emergency action to provide relief to workers who need to be quarantined or care for family members due to the coronavirus.
Del. Israel O’Quinn, one of several House Republicans who voted against the state bill, said he supports President Trump’s emergency action. Congress is expected to extend that relief with legislation.
“I think that’s certainly the right thing to do and I haven’t seen a whole lot of push back against what the president said last night,” O’Quinn said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine sent 8News the following statement Thursday afternoon:
“The U.S. is long overdue for paid sick leave legislation, and we’re seeing in this time of pandemic that we need to provide assurances to workers. About 25% of the American workforce has no paid sick leave, and I think it’s important that they have it. Workers deserve the flexibility to care for their health without fear of losing a paycheck. The House is going to pass a coronavirus response package with paid sick leave in it. It’s going to come over to the Senate, and our goal then is to work together with Senate Republicans and the White House to get a comprehensive package on the table. We need to come together on issues like sick leave, prevention, treatment, and other things to backstop the economy that is being hit really hard by the coronavirus.”Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
The coronavirus package being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives includes provisions requiring all employers to allow workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to provide an additional 14 days immediately in the event of any public health emergency, including the coronavirus.