WASHINGTON, DC – Would you want the person fixing your lunch to be coming down with the flu?  Would you want a coworker coming in to work if they have a fever, cough, and contagious illness?

For most people, the answer is a resounding no.  And the best way to prevent sick people from showing up to work and infecting others is to ensure a national policy like the Healthy Families Act is in place guaranteeing some paid sick days for employees of businesses that can afford it.

Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, in reintroducing the Healthy Families Act, paid sick days legislation to help keep workers, communities and our economy healthy.  The bill would bring the United States in line with every other country in the developed world and establish a federal paid sick days policy.  According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the U.S. is the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid sick leave in any capacity.

Today, one in four American workers still do not have access to paid sick days.  For these 32 million private sector workers—who are disproportionately women and people of color—getting sick or having to care for a sick loved one means having to choose between losing a paycheck or going into work sick and risking the health of their colleagues and their community. This inequity isn’t just bad for workers—it’s bad for our public health and our economy too, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Recent studies show that requiring employers to provide paid sick days reduces the spread of flu-like illnesses and reduces emergency room visits by 1.3 million annually, saving $1.1 billion a year. Another study showed that the emergency paid leave provision passed in 2020 helped slow the spread of COVID-19 by roughly 15,000 cases per day.

“Paid sick leave offers economic and public health benefits.  Very few people can afford to see their pay cut by 20 to 40 percent per week if they take a day or two off work.  And it can actually cost communities and taxpayers a lot more if businesses are trying to save a few bucks by not providing paid sick days because we know the workplace can be one of the main places where contagious illnesses like the flu can be spread.  Instead of relying on a patchwork of policies, the Healthy Families Act would ensure American workers contribute a modest sum and offers them peace of mind knowing that they would have paid sick leave and increased financial security,” said Senator Reed. “I helped include the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act in the NDAA to ensure the federal government was setting a good example, to enhance economic security for millions of families, and because there are important benefits for taxpayers, including improved worker retention and productivity.  We demonstrated it could be done on a large scale and the next step is enacting the Healthy Families Act to ensure all workers and businesses can benefit from paid sick leave.”

“We need a national paid sick leave standard,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “In the wealthiest country in the world, it is inhumane that so many workers have to choose between a paycheck and their health.  As the pandemic has demonstrated, paid leave is one of the most powerful tools we have for protecting the health of the entire community.  If everybody does it, all boats rise together.”

The Healthy Families Act would allow workers at businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours, or seven days, of paid sick leave each year.  This would allow workers to stay home when they are sick or to care for a sick family member—as well as to seek preventive medical care, or seek assistance related to domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Businesses that already provide paid sick leave would not have to change their current policies, as long as they meet the minimum standards of the Healthy Families Act.

Rhode Island is one of eight states, along with Washington, DC, that offers temporary disability insurance for long-term injuries and illnesses. The others are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington, according to A Better Balance, which tracks and compares paid sick and family leave policies by state.  The Ocean State is also among 14 states with paid sick leave laws.

In addition to Senators Murray, Reed, and Whitehouse, the Healthy Families Act is also cosponsored by Senators: Schumer (D-NY), Schatz (D-HI), Duckworth (D-IL), Hassan (D-NH), Murphy (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), Booker (D-NJ), Cardin (D-MD), Smith (D-MN), Warren (D-MA), Cantwell (D-WA), Van Hollen (D-MD), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Wyden (D-OR), Kaine (D-VA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Menendez (D-NJ), Baldwin (D-WI), Gillibrand (D-NY), Peters (D-MI), Hickenlooper (D-CO), King (I-ME), Sanders (I-VT), Markey (D-MA), Bennet (D-CO), Casey (D-PA), Padilla (D-CA), Luján (D-NM), Durbin (D-IL), Leahy (D-VT), Hirono (D-HI), Klobuchar (D-MN), Coons (D-DE), Merkley (D-OR), and Rosen (D-NV).