Senate Committee Rejects Sick and Family Leave for Virginia Workers

When an employee or their family member falls sick, many Virginians are left with the question of whether or not they can afford to take time off of work to care for themselves or their loved ones.

That was a question Kristin Gleichauf’s family had to ask themselves when her grandmother fell ill.

When Gleichauf was in college, her parents were unable to take off work to care for her grandmother. Fortunately for her family, Gleichauf was on winter break, so she had the time to care for her.

“No one should be dependent on a college student to take care of their dying parent,” said Gleichauf.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 41, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, would have required employers with sick leave programs to allow an employee to use their sick leave to care for an immediate family member.

The bill died 11-3 in the Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday.

Sen. Favola (barbarafavola.org)

But there is more legislation waiting for a vote that would help Virginia workers take care of their families without financial worry. Among the few is Senate Bill 790, also introduced by Favola, requires the Virginia Employment Commission to develop a plan for a paid family and medical leave program for employers in the Commonwealth.

House Bill 1529, submitted by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, requires parental leave benefits programs for state employees.

House Bill 973, introduced by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Dale City, requires employers with 15 or more full-time employees to give each employee 40 hours of paid medical and family leave per year.   

Sometimes it is not a family member who gets sick, but the employee. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, only 68 percent of U.S. workers had access to paid sick leave.

Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill which she called the “Virginia’s healthier and more productive workforce legislation,” also known as Senate Bill 421. The law would have required employers with 50 or more employees to give each full-time employee paid medical leave.

Sen. Wexton, courtesy of the Virginia General Assembly Website

Wexton said almost a million and a half workers in Virginia don’t have access to paid medical leave of any kind.

“Workers without paid medical days are left with a difficult choice, they either go to work sick or send a sick child to school or daycare, or stay home and miss getting any sort of pay,” said Wexton. “The burden falls disproportionately on women, especially single moms.”

This legislation would help Virginians like Sophia Bean, who broke her ankle while she was working as a medical assistant. Bean said she had to use her vacation time before she could take sick leave time. Without paid medical leave, Bean still went to work with a broken ankle to pay her bills.

The opposition said that the bill would cost the private sector billions of dollars to provide these benefits to their employees. Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, said the legislation could be dangerous and businesses would more likely drop the number of full-time employees than pay for their benefits.

The bill failed in the Commerce and Labor Committee 11-4.