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Work In The Time of Coronavirus: Know Your Rights To Paid Sick Leave

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California Department of Public Health on Feb. 27, 2020 in Sacramento. Late Wednesday, Newsom called for large gatherings to be canceled (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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We've been tracking the number of coronavirus cases, how some people are reacting with fear and bigotry, and how public agencies and officials are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak here of COVID-19, as the disease is being called.

KPCC’s Take Two explored another important aspect of this public health issue that many of us don’t use to our benefit but may end up needing – paid sick leave, and whether Californians even have access to it.

Labor sociologist Ruth Milkman from City University of New York said a study of hers found less than half of adult workers in California knew about their rights to paid family leave (the kind where workers can take extended leave to welcome a new baby or care for an ailing parent).

"There’s an old joke among people who advocate for paid sick leave: ‘Would you like some flu with those fries?’”

Milkman was speaking specifically about people in food service who might not have been eligible for paid sick time off. Starting in 2015, however, California required all employers to offer a minimum of three sick days each year to workers, even those who are part-time in places like restaurants or grocery stores.
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At minimum, workers earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. When they take advantage of sick leave, it can reduce transmissions between coworkers, or between employees and clients. But fear may push some to come to work, anyway.

“Will they get a promotion, or will a manager look at them favorably?” said Milkman. “But if you’re sick in the workplace, you can infect other people. So it’s actually an altruistic act to take a wellness day.”

She said change needs to come from the top:

“Employers have some moral obligations. A supervisor or a manager is in a position to say [to stay home] in a way that reassures people that there is no consequence for doing that, so those are the people who really should be trained to do this.”