As communities across the United States prepare for the potential temporary closings of schools and workplaces in the wake of coronavirus, many parents and other caretakers are becoming increasingly aware of the effects the country’s lack of mandated paid family leave can have on the average working family.
The Fulton County School District in Georgia announced this week that it was closing all schools on March 10 after a teacher tested positive for coronavirus. Fulton County is just the latest district to close its schools as a preventative measure to stop the spread of the illness. Schools in San Francisco and the state of Washington have also announced closures in recent weeks, and Los Angeles has also warned of the possibility of closures.
The United States is currently one of the only countries in the developed world without either paid sick leave or paid family leave. Several media reports note that the possibility of school closures is a major stressor for parents without access to paid leave or reliable childcare. “I’m a single mom and work all day,” one mom quoted by NBC News wrote on Facebook. “I’m not quite sure I’m going to get my boys to do online learning while I’m gone.”
Advocates say the coronavirus outbreak is illuminating the current gaps in leave policies in the United States. “This unprecedented scenario is showing the need for paid sick leave is all the more acute,” Annie Sartor, the Director of Advocacy for Paid Leave for the United States, told Supermajority News. “People are realizing now how limited the access is to sick days.”
While many companies are allowing employees to work from home during the outbreak, those in industries like retail and hospitality do not have that option. Parents who work in those industries “are going to be especially crunched,” noted Sartor, adding that people in industries with plenty of contact with a number of people “are already more impacted than most of us.”
The current public health emergency is also leading several lawmakers to ramp up the push for paid family leave bills in their jurisdictions. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on March 9 that he would be sending a bill that would require employers in the state with five to 99 employees to provide at least five days of paid sick leave, while larger businesses would have to guarantee workers at least seven days of sick leave. Companies with fewer than five workers would have to provide workers with five days of unpaid leave.
Sartor says she is encouraged by the moves to protect workers, even if they are currently temporary. “It is a rapidly changing situation, and I think it is good the government is taking these steps,” she said. “We are learning more every day about how important paid sick leave and paid family leave are and why they need to exist.”