More than three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States still does not guarantee workers the right to paid sick leave at the national level. The Healthy Families Act—a bill reintroduced this year by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)—would change this unacceptable state of affairs. This explainer covers the key facts about the Healthy Families Act.
What would the Healthy Families Act do?
The Healthy Families Act would guarantee employees the right to earn job-protected time off—in most cases paid—and use it when they or their loved ones are sick, hurt, or getting medical care, as well as for needs in connection with sexual or domestic violence.
Why is the Healthy Families Act necessary?
Federal law does not currently guarantee the right to paid sick time—or to any paid time off at all. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees time off for serious health needs such as cancer or chronic illness but not for everyday health needs such as colds or the flu. Moreover, the FMLA only covers about half of the U.S. workforce, and even for employees who are covered, the act only requires that employers provide unpaid time off. Many states and cities have passed laws that guarantee paid sick time or paid time off that can be used for sick time—including, most recently, Illinois and Minnesota—but most states have not.
1 in 4
private sector employees in the United States have no paid sick days.
As a result, nearly 1 in 4 private sector employees do not have a single paid sick day. Most of the lowest-income workers have no paid sick time, along with nearly half of all part-time workers and those in industries such as leisure and hospitality, and food services and accommodation. This gap is not just a disaster for workers and their families; it is also a public health crisis and an albatross on the U.S. economy.
Who would the Healthy Families Act cover?
The Healthy Families Act would cover full-time and part-time employees at all sizes of businesses, as well as federal, state, and local government employees. The Healthy Families Act would also cover rail workers, following their well-publicized fight for paid sick leave through the collective bargaining process. Under the Healthy Families Act, the law’s protections would go into effect later for workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, applying when the agreement is terminated or amended or 18 months after regulations are issued, whichever comes first.
How much sick time would workers receive under the Healthy Families Act?
Employees would be able to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year. For those who work an eight-hour day, 56 hours is equal to seven workdays. They would start earning time as soon as they start working and have the right to use that time 60 days after the start of their employment.
Employers with at least 15 employees would have to pay this time at the regular rate of pay or at the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is highest. This means that tipped workers, who would not make tips while using sick time, would be entitled to the full minimum wage.
Individuals who work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees would still be entitled to earn and use time at the same rate, but that time may be unpaid.
What could sick time be used for?
Sick time under the Healthy Families Act could be used when employees or their family members—as defined below—are sick, hurt, or receiving treatment or diagnosis, including mental health and preventive care. Workers could also use this time to attend school meetings for a child or meetings related to a loved one’s health condition or disability. In addition, this time could be used to address certain needs when employees or their loved ones are affected by sexual or domestic violence, a protection known as safe leave.
Who could employees under the Healthy Families Act use sick leave to care for?
Loved ones for whom time could be taken under the Healthy Families Act include an employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, or “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” The latter ensures the ability to use sick leave to care for chosen family—loved ones to whom individuals may not have a legal or biological relationship.
Will employees’ jobs be protected?
Yes. Under the Healthy Families Act, it would be illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for using or trying to use their rights under the law, or to interfere with employees’ ability to use their rights.
Universal paid sick leave would make the United States healthier, families more secure, and the economy stronger. It is time to pass the Healthy Families Act to guarantee this basic right and save lives and livelihoods.