Three Ways to Build On the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

A new study in the journal Health Affairs this week, “COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Significantly Reduced US COVID-19 Cases”, finds that the emergency paid leave in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) reduced the number of COVID-19 cases. Between mid-March (FFCRA was enacted on March 18) and the end of May, an average of 400 cases per day in each state were averted by providing a new right to paid sick time in FFCRA to many workers who were covered by the new policy and not in states and localities that have adopted policies for their workers.

Given this evidence for the success of the FFCRA paid sick days policy, what should we do next?

  • Extend the Law: The emergency paid sick days in FFCRA expire at the end of December. Given the declining chance that the pandemic will be over by the end of 2020 with no resurgence and before a safe and effective vaccine is widely available, the law should be extended into 2021 until the public health emergency has abated.
  • Expand Coverage: The FFCRA’s coverage should be expanded to include the millions of workers left out because of the size of their employer or the type of work they do. More than half of all workers are left out because they work for large employers (500 or more employees); twelve percent of private sector workers employed by large establishments (500 or more employees) lack paid sick days in 2020.
  • Universal Paid Sick Days: Ideally, the United States should adopt a permanent, universal policy for paid sick days. We are one of a few countries in the world without a national policy that allows workers to receive pay when the need to stay home from work due to ill health despite accumulated evidence of the benefits. The Family and Medical Leave Act offers job protection, but no pay, to many workers, but the coverage and eligibility rules mean that only 56 percent of workers are protected. A permanent policy would leave us prepared for annual flu season as well as future pandemics.