Lawmakers Propose Flu Emergency Sick Leave Bill

November 5, 2009 ( - U.S. Representative George Miller (D-California), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-California), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, announced emergency temporary legislation that will guarantee paid sick days for a worker sent home or directed to stay home by their employer for a contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu virus.

According to a news release on Miller’s Web site, the law would guarantee a sick worker up to five paid sick leave days a year if the employer directs or advises the sick employee to stay home or go home. The measure would cover both full-time and part-time workers (on a pro-rated basis) in businesses with 15 or more workers. Employers that already provide at least five days’ paid sick leave would be exempt.

Under the legislation, an employer can end paid sick leave at any time by informing the employee that the employer believes they’re well enough to return to work. Employees may continue on unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.

The measure guarantees that 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.

The Emergency Influenza Containment Act would take effect 15 days after being signed into law and sunsets after two years.

“To help control the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, workers who are sick should stay at home,” said Woolsey, in the news release. “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation next week.

Officials of an Arizona county announced in mid-October that they had approved a new policy in light of the start of flu season that employees who are ill should stay home or they could be fired if they don’t obey instructions to leave work (see  AZ County Orders Flu-Ridden Employees Home – or Else ).