On May 1, 2020, Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large) announced a proposed bill, co-sponsored by Helen Gym (At Large) and Bobby Henon (6th District), that would increase the amount of paid sick leave available to workers who continue to physically report to their jobs during a “public health emergency.” This bill comes on the heels of much outcry from state and local officials hoping to address the fact that millions of workers have been excluded from federal emergency paid leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act create certain emergency sick time provisions for workers, these statutes exclude many employees. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 3 million workers have been excluded the law’s exemptions. The Brooks bill would certainly address these shortcomings.
This proposed bill for public health emergency leave will cover any employees (including health care providers, emergency workers, caregivers, gig economy workers, and undocumented workers) during a declared public health emergency who perform work for an employer and are physically present at the workplace for at least 40 hours per year. Under this new legislation, employees may use public health emergency leave for one or more of the following reasons: (1) to obtain medical evaluation or medical care for themselves or to care for a family member who is receiving medical care or undergoing medical evaluation; (2) to self-isolate or quarantine pursuant to directions from a health care professional, public official, or employer because the employee’s presence on the job or in the community would jeopardize the health of others; or (3) to care for a family member who is remaining at home because of a mandatory isolation or quarantine, the closure of a care facility, or an order or declaration.
For employees who work 40 or more hours a week, public health emergency leave will be provide an additional 112 hours of leave (at the employee’s regular rate of pay) for each health emergency, including a second health emergency based on the same health concern if more than one month after the first emergency officially ended.
This bill would essentially increase the number of paid sick days an employee would receive from five to 14 days, and would allow workers to use the days immediately rather than waiting for them to accrue. In addition, public health emergency leave would be given in addition to – and not in lieu of – any paid or unpaid sick leave otherwise required by state or federal law.
Like all other employers, the city of Philadelphia would be required to cover the expanded paid leave costs for its own workers, if this bill passes, which might cause worry for city officials in charge of the budget. While Mayor Jim Kenney has stated in interviews that he supports the concept of such legislation, this bill is sure to face stringent opposition, as similar proposals have done in the past. While the proposed bill will probably not pass in its entirety, a similar version will likely be signed into law in the near future. Because of this, Philadelphia employers should keep an eye out for future developments in this hot-button issue of paid sick leave, which is ever so crucial during the current COVID-19 pandemic.