What Is It?
The Emergency Influenza Containment Act, or H.R. 3991, is a piece of temporary legislation introduced by U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) during the first week of November 2009.
The aim of the act is to provide a way for more members of the American workforce to receive paid time off - up to five days - when they call in sick. If passed, the law would take effect 15 days after being signed, and would expire after two years.
Who Would Be Covered?
This legislation would apply to companies that employ 15 or more people. Both full- and part-time employees of such companies would be covered, on a pro-rated basis.
An employer who directs or advises an employee to go home or stay home from work due to contagious illness, such as the H1N1 flu, would be required to provide up to five days of paid sick leave. Employers who already offer paid sick days would be exempt.
Parents of children whose schools are closed due to flu outbreaks would also be covered.
What's Positive About This Legislation?
With H.R. 3991, sick workers who must stay at home will not have to worry about choosing between earning their pay check and protecting the health of their co-workers or customers.
Currently, this choice is one that many people face. Workers often end up coming in to work even if they have a contagious illness (this is known as presenteeism), because they either don't get paid sick days and can't afford to lose a day's pay, or because taking any number of sick days could result in a reprimand from the boss, or even job termination.
Under the Emergency Influenza Containment Act, employers would not be able to fire, discipline or otherwise retaliate against employees for following directions to stay at home because of a contagious illness. Any employer who does so would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The legislation is also intended to protect employers, who will save money and increase productivity by not having the illness spread to other employees who are not yet ill.
What Are the Drawbacks of This Law?
There is a loophole in this act that could be seen as favoring employers:
The decision of when the worker is fit to return to work rests in the hands of the employer, who is able to end the paid sick leave at any time - potentially cutting it shorter than five days - simply by deciding that the employee is well enough to return to work and informing the employee about this verdict. (Employees would be able to continue their leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other sick leave policies, but that leave would be unpaid.)
Critics of the proposed legislation say it will further hurt the economy by introducing more financial burdens on small businesses. They also say it will open the door to abuse from workers, who will be prone to treating sick days like regular days off, and will call in sick even if they are not ill.