Community Commentary/Opinion: The issue of paid sick leave is a public health crisis

We often think of pay and sick leave policies as human resource matters.  Richard Lord’s article, “Commonsense Approach During COVID-19 Pandemic Includes Paid Sick Leave for Restaurant Workers” raises the issue of paid sick leave as a public health issue.  The truth of his observation has never been more clear than now.

According to the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, 1.2 million Virginians have no paid sick leave.  In Virginia, 81% of food service workers, 75% of childcare workers and 47% of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides do not have paid sick leave.  The working poor, who can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, are particularly likely to go to work when sick.  The combination of low wages and no paid sick leave, along with the fact that these industries have intense, direct contact with the public, is a perfect storm for a public health disaster like the one we are seeing.

Even as COVID-19 was creeping into Virginia, our Virginia General Assembly was considering legislation that would have mandated all employers to provide five paid sick days for their employees.  Lobbyists hammered away on the bill, however, until it essentially died.  Ironically, those lobbyists were from the National Federation of Independent Businesses; the Virginia Retail Federation; the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association; the Virginia Manufacturers Association; United Airlines; American Airlines; and the Virginia Poultry Federation.  In other words, many of the lobbyists represented industries that are now suffering the most from the economic impact of COVID-19.

Taxpayers, as well, will pay a huge price for the unemployment benefits and the bailouts for all those industries that lobbied against five paid sick days for all employees.

In lieu of leadership from our General Assembly, it is time for ordinary citizens to lead by choosing to patronize businesses and organizations that take care of their employees.  The Living Wage Coalition of Central Virginia certifies local employers already pay a living wage (at least $15 an hour) to all employees.  Readers can go to to see a list of certified living wage employers.