Philadelphia workers covered under the city’s sick leave law can now use their sick time during a public health emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the Mayor’s Office of Labor announced Monday.
That means workers can use their sick time if they have to stay home due to quarantine or business closures, or to care for a child because of a school closure.
The announcement comes as the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania are shutting down all businesses deemed “non-essential" and as thousands of low-wage service workers are effectively jobless amid attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, as a massive uptick in cases would overwhelm the city’s health-care system.
Employees who work for companies with more than nine employees can accrue up to five days of paid sick leave, while employees who work for smaller companies can accrue up to five days of unpaid sick leave. That’s far fewer days than the 14-day quarantine period recommended by health officials. The city’s shutdown of non-essential businesses, too, is expected to last until at least March 27.
Mayor Jim Kenney signed a “declaration of extraordinary circumstance” last week that allows the fast-tracking of any new regulation related to the city’s response to the coronavirus. The declaration allows new regulations to take effect immediately and remain in place while the virus outbreak.
The city used that declaration for the first time Thursday, when the Board of Health passed a regulation requiring physicians to report cases of the virus and outlining quarantine and isolation procedures. The enhanced protections for workers marked the second new regulation put into effect to confront the virus.
Liz Ferry, a spokesperson for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber had not seen the regulation yet but “we certainly want everyone to be safe and comply.”
Independent contractors are not covered by the paid sick leave law.
Previously, the city’s law, which went into effect in 2015, did not say anything about public health emergencies.
About half of the 33 local paid sick leave laws around the country have language saying that workers can use their paid sick leave during a public health emergency, said Marianne Bellesorte, vice president of Advocacy at Pathways PA and a leader in the campaign to fight for the Philly law.
There is no federal law allowing workers to earn paid sick leave, but the pandemic has renewed calls for paid sick leave for all workers. On Friday, House Democrats announced an agreement that would allow some workers to get 10 paid sick days; the agreement applies only to those who work for companies with fewer than 500 employees.
Staff writer Laura McCrystal contributed to this report.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.