Coronavirus raises concerns about lack of paid leave in the US

By Melissa Chan & Amina Waheed


The US is one of a few developed countries with no federal paid sick leave policy. The last time it passed a comprehensive policy for workers to take time off was in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provided Americans who qualify with 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year. It covers new parents and employees who are sick or must care for a family member.

The law, the very first bill that Clinton signed, has its limits. Forty percent of workers do not meet the requirements for FMLA, which is also contingent on the size of the company people work at. What’s more, many who do qualify often cannot take the benefit because they live paycheck to paycheck.

“Most low wage workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave,” said Pronita Gupta at The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), an advocacy group for the low-income population. They end up having to make “an impossible decision, between taking unpaid leave and forgoing that income”, or buying groceries and paying rent.

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