The Virginia General Assembly did not pass legislation this session to ensure paid sick days for employees, despite strong public support.
A 2021 study by Christopher Newport University found almost 90% of people surveyed support paid sick leave. Both House and Senate versions of the bill updated the current law that state employers only have to provide paid sick leave to certain home health workers.
The bills also would have removed current regulations that require grocery store employees and health care providers to work at least 20 hours each week or 90 hours per month to be eligible for paid sick days. The Department of Labor and Industry would also have developed guidelines for grocery store employers to provide sick leave by Dec. 1.
The employees can accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, according to the bills. The earned paid sick leave can be carried over to the following year, but an employee cannot accrue or use more than 40 hours of paid sick leave in a year, unless the employer chooses a higher limit.
The Senate bill passed on a 22-18 party-line vote. Once the bill went to the House, it was killed in the Commerce and Energy subcommittee. The House bill failed to advance from the same committee.
Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, served as co-patron of Mundon King’s bill. Guzman also sponsored HB 1988, to allow all employees of private employers and state and local governments to accrue paid sick leave. The bill allowed an employee to transfer accrued sick leave to the following year. An employee could also donate accrued sick leave to another employee, with certain restrictions, according to the bill. The bill died in the same House committee as the others.
Guzman has advocated for paid sick leave since 2018. The General Assembly passed an amended version of Guzman’s legislation in 2021 that mandated paid sick leave for some in-home health care workers. The legislative attempts this session expanded on that work.
“The reason why we couldn’t, you know, leave COVID behind us is because people need to pay their bills and they continue to go back to work being sick,” Guzman said.
The bill failed to pass the House because it lacked Republican support, Guzman said.
Virginia law does not require employers to provide paid sick leave to all employees. The employer can determine how much sick leave an employee receives, according to Guzman.
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocated for Guzman’s bill in 2021. The bill provided five paid sick days per year for 30,000 home health care workers in Virginia, according to the VICPP website.
VICPP conducted a study in 2015 that reported 1.2 million workers in Virginia have no paid sick leave, according to Jase Hatcher, VICPP economic justice program manager. This totals to 41% of private sector workers in Virginia, according to Hatcher. Taking just 3.5 unpaid sick days can result in an average family losing a month’s worth of groceries, Hatcher said.
“That means that workers are choosing between taking care of themselves and their family member, or paying their bills,” Hatcher said. “That is not how we should do that.”
The VICPP study stated that 83% of registered Virginia voters supported a paid sick day standard, according to the VICPP website. Home health care providers need paid sick leave to tend to their health and also to help prevent further outbreaks of illness, VICPP stated. A 2020 study by Health Affairs found that paid sick leave reduced the spread of the coronavirus.
The VICPP believed the bill failed due to the “issues around its impact” on small businesses, Hatcher said. The Senate version of the bill added that a grocery store worker did not include any employee of a business that employs fewer than 25 employees.
“What it comes down to is there are a lot of folks who just don’t believe that there should be mandates or any mandates on paper, but as the data shows, without that mandate, 1.2 million workers go without,” Hatcher said.
The VICPP will continue to advocate for a paid sick leave bill during the next session, because it is one of the most important issues for workers, according to Hatcher.
“The U.S. is one of the very, very few countries in the world which does not have a national paid sick leave policy,” Hatcher said. “So making sure that we’re filling the gaps at the local and state level is really essential before we can get that nationally.”
By Mackenzie Meleski / Capital News Service