Labor advocates are pushing to expand a voter-approved paid sick leave law to give frontline workers more time off during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The law, which went into effect in 2015, requires Massachusetts businesses with more than 11 workers to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees must provide 40 hours of unpaid sick leave a year.

Advocates say the time off isn’t sufficient, especially with self-quarantine rules that force people stay home at least 14 days if they believe they’re sick.

A proposal gaining momentum on Beacon Hill would add another 10 work days, or 80 hours, of paid sick time to the law for use during the pandemic.

Backed by more than 100 lawmakers, the bipartisan proposal would apply to workers at private companies with more than 500 employees and those working at health care or nursing facilities that aren’t covered by a new federal paid sick leave law.

“We’re talking about health care, nursing home and grocery store workers on the front lines of the battle against this virus who lack the ability to stay home with pay if they are sick,” said Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “We need to do more to support these people.”

The effort is being led by Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, social justice and faith groups that put the sick leave question on the November 2014 ballot.

“Anyone who feels sick or may have been exposed to COVID-19 should be able to stay home and avoid exposing others to the virus,” said Deb Fastino, the group’s co-chair. “But many workers can’t miss work to care for themselves or their family because they’d lose the pay they need to make ends meet.”

Under the proposal, those who request time off would be paid by their employers at their regular rate, up to a maximum of $850 per week. Employers would be reimbursed by the state.

The additional 10 hours of sick leave could only be used during the current or future states of emergency.

The benefits would be available to employees if they can’t work because they’re been infected, placed under a quarantine order, have COVID-19 symptoms and are awaiting test results, or have to care for a family member. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for an employee to recover from a health condition or care for a loved one. It covers workers at companies with 50 or more employees.

A new federal law passed last month in response to the outbreak provides allows workers to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave to care for themselves or others. But advocates say there are gaps in coverage that put the benefits out of reach for an estimated 1.8 million Massachusetts workers.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

 

 

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