In a country that has historically provided minimal legal protections for workers, the pandemic has certainly exposed how vulnerable our workforce truly is and the need for reform going forward.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which went into effect in April of last year, was a step in the right direction. The FFCRA provided workers two main benefits: two weeks of paid sick leave due to COVID-19 related reasons and expanded paid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for COVID-19 related child-care issues. While there is no denying that the FFCRA provided some critical benefits to workers, it did not go far enough. The Act only applied to employers with fewer than 500 employees and provided a broad exemption for employers with fewer than 50 employees. This means that most of the country’s essential workforce was left out to dry – forced to choose between going to work sick or not being able to pay their bills. Not to mention, the FFCRA expired on December 31, 2020 and Congress failed to extend it into 2021. The pandemic is clearly still an ongoing crisis and workers are desperately in need of some form of job protection.
Thankfully, the new Biden administration has already called for Congress to not only extend the FFCRA protections, but also remove the broad exemptions for employers with more than 500 and fewer than 50 employees. President Biden presented this policy to Congress, among many other crucial COVID-19 related policy proposals, in his emergency stimulus package titled The American Rescue Plan (“ARP”). In the meantime, while we await Congress’ action on the ARP, it is left up to the good will of employers to implement their own COVID-19 policies that protect workers faced with issues such as child-care, direct exposure to COVID-19, contracting COVID-19, or caring for a loved one with COVID-19.
But whether we are experiencing a pandemic or not, the truth remains: workers are in need of guaranteed paid leave for reasons such as dealing with health issues, pregnancies, or caring for family members with serious health conditions. Workers being forced to choose between a paycheck and their health is not a novel issue – the pandemic has just exacerbated the issue. This is why Democrats in Congress are using this opportunity to spark dialogue again for the need for national paid leave in this country. For instance, on February 5, 2021, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced legislation that would provide workers the right to receive up to 66% of their monthly wages for up to a 12-week period due to health conditions, pregnancy, childbirth, child adoption, or to care for a sick family member. This is not the first time this type of legislation has been introduced; however, Democrats believe that there has never been a better time to persuade members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that job protections for workers like this are imperative.