Sick Leave

By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va -- A report by researchers at Harvard University and the University of California San Francisco found that only one-third of workers at Virginia’s biggest food-service and retail firms have access to paid sick leave.

The study, which was based on surveys from 733 hourly service-sector employees from 103 of Virginia’s biggest food-service and retail firms, found different industries gave various access to sick leave. While 93% of employees at hardware and building supply stores said they had paid sick time, only 7% of workers at casual dining restaurants said likewise.

Access also varied by ethnicity with 39% of Hispanic workers, 36% of White workers and 26% of Black workers reported having paid time off for sick leave. Rates for parents with children under the age of 10 were also found to be lower than for workers without children.

Legislation requiring businesses to provide paid leave has been a target for many Virginia politicians and has faced opposition in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers reintroduced a bill that died in the 2020 legislative session that would have provided up to five days of paid sick leave a year to workers during an 83-day special session that stretched from during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commerce and Labor Committee killed both the Senate version of the bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) and the House version proposed by Del. Elizabeth Guzmán (D-Prince William) despite several rounds of revisions intended to make the bill more palatable for businesses who issued concerns over the legislation.

A March study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that was reported by the New York Times found that employees in states and localities who implemented paid sick leave laws had averaged two sick days a year at an average cost of 20 cents per hour worked to their employers.

According to Virginia Mercury, Guzmán is working to draft a new version of the legislation which would require employers to provide 40 hours of paid leave for full-time employees although Guzmán said legislators are still negotiating whether to include any part-time employees to be covered. She intends to introduce the bill in January.

“When I first came to America as a single mother, I was working three jobs and I did not have paid sick leave,” Guzman, who filed paperwork in October to run in Virginia’s 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s race, told the Washington Post in December. “I sometimes had to make the difficult decision to leave my sick child at home [alone] so I could make the rent.”