Paid leave at the center of the coronavirus conversation

Lawmakers and employers look to find ways to help workers impacted by the coronavirus.
By: | March 12, 2020 • 3 min read

As travel restrictions and quarantine measures are taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are looking for ways to alleviate burdens employees and employers might be facing.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called on lawmakers to drop the payroll tax rate to zero through the end of the year. He also announced that he will soon be taking emergency action to provide financial relief for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to the coronavirus.

“To ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship, I will soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief. This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to coronavirus,” he said in his address Wednesday night.

Also see A daily shot: Your COVID-19 update

“I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief,” he added.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), whose state is among the hardest-hit, on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require employers give workers 14 days of paid sick leave during public-health emergencies.

“We urge Republicans in the House and Senate to help immediately pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The bill will include free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave for workers, food security assistance, help to states overburdened by Medicaid costs and strengthened unemployment insurance, among other much-needed measures to keep the American people safe.”

The measure has been met with resistance from GOP leadership in both the House and Senate.

While the conversation plays out at the national level, state and local governments and private industries are looking at ways to address the situation.

For instance, residents in Colorado will be eligible for up to four days of paid sick leave from their employer while they are being tested for COVID-19 under new emergency rules.

The new rules will apply to people who work in the following industries: leisure and hospitality; food services; child care; education and related food service or work at schools; home healthcare if people are working with elderly, disabled, sick or high-risk people; nursing homes and community-living facilities.

Paid leave has also been a hot topic among private sector employers, and in the past few years, more and more have beefed up paid leave to include caregiving leave.

Just this week, Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden, announced a permanent change to its paid sick leave benefits for its more than 180,000 employees.

Employees will accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 worked. The pay rate will be based on the worker’s 13-week average. Current employees can use the benefit immediately, and their starting balance is based on their most recent 26 weeks of work. New hires, who will begin accruing paid sick leave as soon as they start, can use it after 90 days of employment.

Although announced Monday, a Darden representative said the policy had been in process for some time, but the company decided to accelerate its rollout due to COVID-19. The company said it plans to continue to enhance its current benefit plan, which already provides access to flexible schedules, paid family and medical leave, healthcare plans and a 401(k) with company match—among many other programs.

“As we continue to make investments in our employees, we strengthen our greatest competitive edge—because when our team members win, our guests win,” said Gene Lee, Darden’s president and CEO.

Darden owns Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze.

Nick Otto is HRE’s senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He can be reached at notto@lrp.com or follow him on twitter @Ottografs.