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Pandemic hasn't changed partisan divide on paid time off

Sophie Quinton, on

Published in News & Features

Many states and cities have passed their own paid time off laws in recent years. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., require certain employers to offer paid sick days; nine states and Washington, D.C., require employers to offer paid family and medical leave; and two states have general leave laws that require employers to offer paid time off for a range of reasons, according to A Better Balance, a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates for workers.

Some of the laws have yet to be implemented. New Mexico’s law, for instance, won’t require employers to offer sick days until July 2022.

Three-quarters of private-sector workers had paid sick days in March 2020, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only a fifth of them had paid family and medical leave.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a flurry of emergency federal, state and local sick day laws.

Then-President Donald Trump signed a temporary law in March 2020 that required businesses with fewer than 500 employees to give workers up to two weeks of paid sick leave due to coronavirus-related symptoms, quarantine requirements or caregiving responsibilities. The law also required employers to give workers up to an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to care for children whose schools or day care providers were closed.

The federal law offered businesses tax credits to pay for the new benefits. It expired at the end of 2020, but employers can still qualify for the tax credits if they voluntarily offer workers paid time off due to COVID-19.


Several cities, and states such as California, New Jersey and Oregon also passed laws last year requiring employers to grant workers paid time off for pandemic-related reasons.

Whether due to fear of the virus or the new laws, some businesses expanded paid sick days between March and May 2020. About a quarter of private-sector employers created sick leave policies or added days to their policies during that period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found. Ninety percent of employers said the changes were temporary.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Colorado, New York and New Mexico created a new legal right to sick days.

"Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we knew that no one should have to make the unimaginable choice between keeping their job or caring for themselves or a loved one,” New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last year in an online statement. “This public health crisis has put that need in even greater relief."


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