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March 04, 2021

City Council may reinstate paid sick leave for Philly workers affected by COVID-19

A policy that expired last year ensured income for people needing to take time off for pandemic-related reasons

City Council Legislation
City Council Paid Leave Kate Frese/For PhillyVoice

Philadelphia City Council is set to vote on a bill that would reinstate two weeks of paid sick leave for workers affected by COVID-19.

A bill making its way through City Council would reinstate a mandate that Philadelphia employers provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees unable to work due to COVID-19. 

The bill was unanimously passed Wednesday by the Public Health and Human Services Committee. It's set to go up for a full City Council vote in the coming weeks.

If approved, Philadelphia workers who need to quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure, care for a sick family member, or stay home with a child whose daycare or school closed because of COVID-19 would be able to take two weeks off without losing income. 

The bill, introduced by City Councilmember Kendra Brooks, applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. It would last as long as the public health emergency is in place. 

As the city eases its COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and sporting venues, paid sick leave will be an important strategy in keeping transmission down, Brooks said.

A recent study conducted by the Wharton School of Business and Independence Blue Cross showed that Philadelphia's essential workers are 55% more likely to contract the coronavirus.

"With schools, stadiums and other businesses reopening, emergency paid sick leave is a necessity not only for workers, but for the Philadelphia public," Councilmember Brooks said. "Our low wage workers have been on the front lines of this pandemic for nearly a year, and the least we can do for them to provide the protections they need to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe."

This bill would reenact a policy that expired Dec. 31. Since then, city employers have not been required to provide paid time off for pandemic-related reasons. National aid through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired on Dec. 31 too. 

Employers who provide emergency paid sick leave would be eligible for a federal tax credit.

Several Philly workers addressed the importance of the bill at the committee hearing. 

"When faced with a choice between losing two weeks of pay or not, what kind of choice could a worker earning poverty wages make when they feel a little sick?" said Mike Brown, a bike security officer at Temple University. "What bills should they not pay if they're told to quarantine because they were exposed to COVID-19 on the job?"

A disproportionate number of essential workers are people of color. In Philadelphia, Black people are twice as likely to get COVID-19 than white people, according to data from Drexel University.

Additionally, low wage workers are less likely to have access to paid sick leave and less likely to afford a missed paycheck.

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