A spike in flu cases in Minnesota has some questioning whether employers should be required to offer their workers paid sick time.
State Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, sponsored a bill during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that would require employers to give their workers one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked. The accrual formula would vary depending on the size of the employer.
The bill did not become law. Lesch said Thursday he plans to introduce the bill again this year.
"Many of these individuals who we really want to stay home when they're sick — salad bar workers or child care workers — they don't have any sick days right now, and when they can't afford to take a day off because they've got the flu, they go to work and they risk infecting the rest of us," Lesch said.
The issue is top of mind for the lawmaker this week; Lesch stayed home sick from the Capitol as he recovered from the flu.
"It's now been four days that I've been holed up in bed. Session's starting right now and I'm not even at session. I'm lucky enough to have time that I can take away in order to recover and not infect my coworkers," he said.
In the past, some business groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, have opposed adding a paid sick leave requirement to the law because it costs employers money. For example, if a worker calls in sick and another employee has to fill in, the employer ends up paying both for sick time and overtime.
Nationally, about 73 percent of full-time workers receive paid sick time, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Efforts to require paid sick time haven't gotten very far in Congress, said Amy Monahan, a University of Minnesota law professor who studies employee benefits law. She said the Family Medical Leave Act gives employees the right to unpaid leave.
"That was a fight," Monahan said. "Trying to move into the direction of paid leave becomes even more difficult politically."
Besides cost, business groups have also argued that many employers already offer paid leave on their own and don't need further regulation, she said.
A study by the Labor Department showed workers in higher paying jobs were more likely to have paid sick time than workers earning low wages. In Minnesota, a Department of Employment and Economic Development survey found that workers employed in construction, hospitality and leisure were the least likely to have paid sick time.
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