US is one of only a few nations with no national sick paid leave
Last summer 44-year-old Ernest Paschal II was fired from his job at a Walmart in South Carolina while recovering from sepsis. Paschal is paraplegic due to a work injury he sustained at the age of 19 and had his left leg amputated in 2019 due to a medical condition.
Like many US workers living with serious illness, Paschal found some employers have little interest – and almost no incentive – to make accommodations for sick workers.
Nearly one in three US workers with a serious illness either end up losing their jobs or have to change jobs due to their illness. The US is one of only a few countries in the world with no national paid leave.
Last summer on the job, Paschal started feeling nauseated and had trouble remaining conscious, and was sent home from work. He later learned after a doctor visit that he was septic, a life-threatening condition where the body responds over actively to an infection.
While recovering from sepsis, Paschal informed his managers of the illness and recovery, but noticed he was still receiving “attendance points”.
At Walmart, workers are subjected to a disciplinary attendance point system where points are given for leaving work early, arriving late, and any absences even if excused with a medical illness. Workers with too many attendance points can miss out on raises, promotions, or be terminated.
“Even if you’re sick, they don’t care,” said Paschal. “It’s unfair the way they treat people.”
Instead of excusing his absences, Paschal said his management referred him to apply for a leave of absence through a third-party company that handles such requests for Walmart employees. The company told him he was not eligible for medical leave and while trying to determine the status of an accommodation request that he filed through Walmart, he found out that Walmart had fired him.
Through A Better Balance, a non-profit worker advocacy group, Paschal filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to challenge his termination, alleging it violated the American Disabilities Act.
A Better Balance has long criticized Walmart, the largest employer in the US, over punishing workers for medical absences through its disciplinary attendance point system and has filed a lawsuit challenging the company’s attendance policy, part of broader efforts to secure the Family and Medical Leave Act and mandated paid leave for all workers in the US.
Currently under the Family and Medical Leave Act, about 40% of all US workers aren’t eligible for unpaid leave and many workers can’t afford to utilize leave because it’s unpaid, with low-income workers disproportionately lacking any access to short-term disability insurance through employers. More than 60% of low-wage US workers have no access to paid sick days on the job.
It took several attempts to get the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 and the legislation was rewritten to include several compromises, said Sherry Leiwant, co-president of A Better Balance. While the legislation was viewed as an important first step in securing leave for US workers, Leiwant said the act needs to be expanded and modernized in line with the current workforce.
In 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic ignited a push for federally mandated paid sick leave to pass as an inclusion with the Build Back Better Act, but the bill never made it through the US Senate.
Source: The Guardian