Va. lawmakers block paid sick time bill as coronavirus sparks national conversation

Va. lawmakers block paid sick time bill as coronavirus sparks national conversation
For months, a handful of Virginia lawmakers had been pushing legislation that would grant access to paid sick time to thousands of workers. (Source: Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

For months, a handful of Virginia lawmakers had been pushing legislation that would grant access to paid sick time to thousands of workers.

But their pitch grew increasingly pointed as the proposal came down to the wire in the final days of the General Assembly and state officials confirmed the state’s first cases of coronavirus.

“Coronavirus is spreading,” Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Alexandria, told her colleagues Sunday as she outlined the dilemma many workers face: “Roughly 25 percent of American workers – and it’s a little higher in Virginia – have no paid sick leave. So here they are trying to provide for their families, trying to pay rent. And yet they know they need to go to the doctor and they cannot take time off.”

The proposal, which would have required businesses with 15 or more employees to grant all workers at least five paid sick days a year, failed later in the afternoon when lawmakers adjourned without the Senate taking up the issue for a final vote.

The decision not to act comes as health officials around the country warn workers who think they might be sick to stay home — evergreen advice, but one advocates note is not practical for a large segment of the population.

Less than two thirds of the country’s lowest-earning workers have access to paid sick time compared to 94 percent of the highest earners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found workers in the service industry are the least likely to work for employers who grant the benefit.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.