Why workers need emergency Earned Sick Days?
One of the most basic steps to protect public health during a pandemic is for people who are sick, or who have been exposed to the virus, to quarantine themselves, and the CDC recommends staying home for 14 days after possible exposure. But that’s not always possible for essential workers unless they have access to enough paid sick days. New Jersey’s current earned sick day law provides only five days a year and employers can require that workers wait 120 days after the first day of work, and that they earn their time before they can use it. Employers can also ask for a doctor’s note for three or more consecutive days of absence. These burdensome measures make it harder for workers to access their paid sick days so that they can take care of their own health, stay home and protect others from exposure. We need to do more to protect essential and frontline workers and stop the spread of contagion, now or in the future, by strengthening and expanding our earned sick day law.
The need for paid sick days, especially during a pandemic, was so evident that the U.S. Congress took action for the first time ever, passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) which provides workers with 10 paid sick days for reasons related to COVID-19. However, the new federal law exempted employers with over 500 employees and virtually all health care workers. And while health care workers are included in the NJ Earned Sick Leave law, per diem health care employees are not. That means an estimated 58 percent of New Jersey workers do not have access to any of the federal protections including emergency paid sick days. Many of these workers are low paid, working at grocery store chains, big box stores and warehouses, and some have reported working in unsafe conditions, potentially exposed to sick coworkers and members of the public. By making changes to improve the state Earned Sick Leave law, we can ensure all essential and frontline workers have access to both basic and emergency paid sick days.
What does bill S2453 do?
Senate Majority Leader, Loretta Weinberg, the champion of the original Earned Sick Leave bill, has sponsored bill S2453 which improves the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave law by:
- Providing essential workers with 15 emergency paid sick days available immediately during a declared state of emergency. This would be for future possible pandemics or other emergencies and for the current COVID-19 emergency it is retroactive to March 1, 2020.
- Increasing the number of base earned paid sick days from 5 to 7 days.
- Removing the burdensome 120 waiting period from a worker’s first day and when the employer must allow them to use the paid sick time that they have earned. As workers accrue their leave they should be able to take it.
- Including per diem health care employees (removes their previous carve-out from coverage).
- Changing employers’ ability to require a doctor’s note on the third consecutive day of absence to the fifth consecutive day and allows for telehealth documentation.
- Adding 2 days bereavement time as an allowable use under the law.