Updated Mar 6, 2022 - Economy

Mapped: America's spotty paid sick leave laws

Where paid sick leave is and is not guaranteed by law
Data: A Better Balance; Note: Cities with individual paid leave laws not labeled when covered by state laws; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

After Crystal Phillips, a 47-year-old youth counselor, asked for time off to quarantine in 2020, her employer tried to fire her. But she hung on to her job by tapping into an emergency paid sick leave provision passed that year by Congress to deal with the COVID crisis, she tells Axios.

Why it matters: The Biden administration now says it wants to revive some version of that emergency sick leave policy, which expired at the end of 2020.

  • "I couldn't believe that a company would do something like that," Phillips said this week, reflecting on what happened.
  • Phillips lives in Kentucky, one of 18 states that not only don't have a paid sick leave law, but also passed legislation that prohibits any city or county from doing their own sick leave.

State of play: Some states have tried to fill the void. A total of 15 states, as well as dozens of cities have passed sick leave laws.

  • A new report, released this morning by advocacy group A Better Balance and provided exclusively to Axios, compiles all the details. The group estimates that, thanks to these laws, now 55 million workers do have guaranteed access to leave.

Yes, but: Approximately 33 million low-wage workers in the U.S. don't have access to paid sick days, creating all kinds of personal challenges for workers — and public health issues for everyone. The U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave to workers.

  • Advocates say there needs to be a federal policy, and point to the Healthy Families Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would require employers to provide up to 56 hours of paid sick time a year that could be use for illnesses, injuries, or to care for a loved one.
  • They also pushed the White House to revive the emergency paid sick policy.

The other side: The Chamber of Commerce tells Axios it doesn't support paid leave policies that force the employer to foot the bill for time off.

  • When the emergency policy passed in 2020, "we didn't get in the way," said Mark Friedman, vice president of workplace policy at the business group.
  • "Now, we're not in the same type of moment," he added.

The bottom line: Sick leave advocates were hopeful and optimistic that some kind of permanent provision would finally pass in the U.S., after the onset of COVID. That never happened.

  • "That was upsetting," said Sherry Leiwant, co-president of A Better Balance. "There are just so many people without anything at all. In a country like ours, that's not acceptable."

Editor's note: This story originally published on March 4.

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