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Pandemic highlights need for paid sick days, workers say

Posted at 5:05 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 20:50:48-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The coronavirus pandemic is hitting some families especially hard — including the thousands of Indiana workers who do not get any paid sick days.

Roughly one-third of Hoosier workers do not get any paid sick leave, meaning they have to decide whether to show up to work sick or not receive a paycheck.

Desiree Edwards is a married mother of three kids and works at Taco Bell on Washington Street to help the family make ends meet.

“I love my job,” Edwards said. “Making everyone's day by smiling and communicating with them and my favorite part is working the drive thru."

But the restaurant, like many others, closed its dining room amid coronavirus concerns and Edwards works the drive thru.

“We are still in contact with money, the change, people’s hands and credit cards not knowing if they’re sick” Edwards said. “You risk bringing that home to your children — I have a failure to thrive child who has a weak immune system."

If Edwards or her children get sick and she can’t come in, she doesn’t get paid.

The Indiana Institute for Working Families has been trying unsuccessfully to change that.

"We have encouraged our state lawmakers to consider minimum requirements for paid sick leave, for paid family medical leave and so far they have not been willing to consider those proposals and will change that dynamic and they will see the value of having some minimum requirements not just for the individuals effected but for public health and safety in general," said Erin Macey with the Indiana Institute for Working Families.

Click here to read their blog post from March 16 on the topic of paid sick leave for Hoosiers.

“We’re going to need to do major things in response to this pandemic, but had we had a minimum paid sick days requirement I think we would feel less impact of coronavirus because workers would have been better able to take that advice and stay home when they’re sick as this was coming about,” Macey said. “Not only has the Indiana General Assembly failed to consider paid leave in any form, they also preempted localities from passing any ordinances setting standards for their employers.”

Congress is also working on legislation related to this issue.

“They’re putting legislation on the table that would cover people who are diagnosed with COVID 19 but also family members who need to care for a child where school has closed,” Macey said. “However, it exempted out employers with 500 or more employees so that’s going to affect half of our workforce and leave them out.”

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced Monday the Indiana Department of Workforce Development has suspended rules requiring unemployment insurance claimants to physically appear at a Work One location, something Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, has been pushing for.

"There's going to be a lot of people out of work not because they're sick but because of the general shutdown. We need to make sure we get benefits to them also,” Tallian said. “People could get paid and even if it’s just at unemployment benefit levels then people could also not have to do job search and the employers would also not have their experience rate dinged because of quote layoffs.”

In a recent survey, 60% of workers in the food service industry reported they’ve come to work sick and some worry this could become especially problematic during this pandemic.

Holcomb said Monday he’s looking at all options to address the impact on Hoosier workers.