Congress considers measure to pay sick for time out of work - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Congress considers measure to pay sick for time out of work

WASHINGTON. - If you have swine flu but don't get paid for taking time off, what do you do? Stay home? Go to work and try not to infect your co-workers?

Congress is now concerned too many people are being forced to make that choice in the middle of the H1N1 epidemic.

Nearly half the workers in this country - 57 million people - have no paid sick leave, leading to tough choices when a worker, or their child, gets sick.

Many are low-wage workers including waitresses, sales clerks and even school bus drivers.

The government says if you get swine flu, be responsible and stay home, but many families can't afford to.

"What's responsible when staying home means risking a paycheck or a job that your family depends on?," asked Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Woman and Families.

Lawmakers are introducing emergency legislation that would require employers to pay sick workers for up to seven days of sick leave.

"Families shouldn't have to choose between staying healthy and making ends meet," said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

As lawmakers discuss the legislation, businesses, especially small ones, worry how that could impact their bottom line.

"It's gonna be stretched and we're gonna have to make very difficult decisions. Very difficult decisions," said Elissa O'Brien of the Society of Human Resource Management.

Those difficult decisions include things like pay cuts, layoffs or not hiring new workers amidst double-digit unemployment.
>>Fed officials warn that jobless rate will stay high

"If I'm the guy with 15 employees, do you think I'd consider hiring a 16th one with us considering this piece of legislation? I wouldn't be able to," said Republican Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming.

Some companies already offer paid sick leave and fear a federal law may force them to add even more.

The House already has a bill and the Senate's is being written.

If the legislation passes, guaranteed paid sick leave could be a reality just two weeks after it's approved.

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