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House Democrats Introduce H1N1 Economic Vaccine

Image: Brett BrownellDuring this year’s flu season, concerns about getting sick and missing work will be compounded. Not only will we have to take precautions against the common flu, but now we’ll have to add H1N1 to our list of concerns as well. Thankfully, vaccines are now available for both types of flu. However, many Americans will still be stricken with a contagious illness that will force them to miss work this flu season. Therefore, House Democrats have introduced a sort of economic vaccine which will guarantee up to five paid sick days to a worker sent home or directed to stay home by their employer because of a contagious illness.

The legislation, called the Emergency Influenza Containment Act was introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Rep. George Miller
Rep. Lynn Woolsey

Rep. Woolsey said, “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The Emergency Influenza Containment Act would take effect 15 days after being signed into law, sunset after two years, and cover full-time and part-time workers in businesses with 15 or more workers.

This should be a relief to the 72% of part-time workers, 37% of non-union workers, 18% of union workers who receive zero paid sick leave.

An employer can end the sick leave if they believe the employee is well enough to return to work and the employer informs the employee of the decision. Meanwhile, the bill would allow employees to continue on unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a sick worker will infect one in ten co-workers. As a result, the CDC and other public health officials have advised employers to be flexible when dealing with sick employees and to develop leave policies that will not punish workers for being ill. Plus, according to the EICA, employees who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness cannot be fired, disciplined or made subject to retaliation for following directions.

H1N1 is still thriving in this tough economic climate. But for the rest of us, an economic vaccine may be on the way.

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation the week of November 16.

About the Author: Brett Brownell is a new media fellow at the New Organizing Institute where he manages the Today’s Workplace blog and new media for Workplace Fairness. Brett served as deputy director of new media & videographer for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania. He is also the founder of Worldwide Moment (an international photography project for peace) and the son of a 40-year veteran of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union.

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