News Releases

H1N1: Senator Murray Examines Policy Changes to Help Keep Sick Workers at Home

Nov 10 2009

Murray highlights the importance of paid sick leave to prevent the spread of H1N1

AUDIO

(Washington D.C.) –Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) attended a Senate hearing examining the problem of H1N1 being spread by workers who can’t afford to miss work when they are sick. Senator Murray gave an opening statement pushing for passage of the Healthy Families Act that would allow workers to earn up to 56 hours of paid leave to care for themselves or their family. This would benefit workers and businesses and help prevent the spread of H1N1 by ensuring that employees have the ability to stay home when they are contagious.

This is especially important for workers who may interact with individuals who are particularly vulnerable to the flu, such as those with underlying health conditions or women who are pregnant.

Senator Murray is a senior member of the Senate Health Committee, Chairman of the Employment and Workplace Safety subcommittee, and has been a long-time advocate for strong family and medical leave policies.

Key excerpts from opening statement:

“Our families are facing the toughest economic environment since the Great Depression. Too many are asking themselves how they’re going to pay their rent, their health care premiums, or how they will put food on the table.  But one thing they should never have to worry about is losing their jobs or their paychecks just because they or a family member gets sick.”

“This problem is not new, but the current H1N1 crisis has demonstrated so clearly the consequences and costs of employees coming into work sick, and the very real need for a policy that will allow them to stay home.  This is not just good for workers, it is critical for businesses that want to keep their workforce healthy and productive during a national health care crisis like H1N1.”

“Workers and businesses have a responsibility to each other and to the public to prevent the spread of serious illnesses like H1N1.  And ensuring that workers have paid leave makes the decision to stay home much easier for employees who are struggling to pay the bills.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s opening statement follows:

“Thank you, Senator Dodd, for holding this hearing. And I appreciate the witnesses who have taken the time to be here today to discuss how we can help protect our workers, families, businesses, and communities from illness.  And this is especially important now as we see H1N1 spread across the nation.

“I would like to start by saying once again just how much we miss our dear friend Ted Kennedy—especially as we discuss this issue.  He was such a strong champion for paid leave in the workplace, and his hard work has moved us closer to that goal.  And that goal is so critical.

“Since my time as a as a state Senator and a working mother I have been fighting to ensure that working Americans can take care of themselves and their families when they are sick, and not have to worry about losing their jobs. And I was so proud to stand with Senator Dodd in my first year as a United States Senator as we passed the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“That was a great step forward, but the work is far from done.

“Our families are facing the toughest economic environment since the Great Depression. Too many are asking themselves how they’re going to pay their rent, their health care premiums, or how they will put food on the table.

“But one thing they should never have to worry about is losing their jobs or their paychecks just because they or a family member gets sick.

“That’s why I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Healthy Families Act that would allow workers to earn up to 56 hours of paid leave to care for themselves or their family.

“This problem is not new, but the current H1N1 crisis has demonstrated so clearly the consequences and costs of employees coming into work sick, and the very real need for a policy that will allow them to stay home.

“This is not just good for workers, it is critical for businesses that want to keep their workforce healthy and productive during a national health care crisis like H1N1. 

“The CDC has issued guidance to help employers plan for and respond to H1N1. This guidance urges employers to allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs and to allow workers to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students.

 “We’ve been told by the CDC that on average, an individual who comes to work with H1N1 will infect 10% of his or her coworkers.  And those workers could then infect even more workers—including those who are particularly vulnerable to the flu, such as those with underlying health conditions or women who are pregnant.

“Workers and businesses have a responsibility to each other and to the public to prevent the spread of serious illnesses like H1N1.  And ensuring that workers have paid leave makes the decision to stay home much easier for employees who are struggling to pay the bills.

“Let’s also not forget that our health care professionals, who will be the front line for all Americans in tackling this crisis, are employees as well. And good leave policies will help them choose to care for themselves without being concerned about keeping their job.

“I encourage my colleagues to pay close attention to this health crisis. To consider the value of guaranteed paid leave not only for our workers and businesses, but to help keep illnesses like H1N1 under control. And to support to Healthy Families Act.

“Thank you.”