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Kline urges Congress to ‘tread carefully’ before mandating H1N1 sick leave pay

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. John Kline advised Congress today to “tread very carefully” when it comes to mandating employer-paid sick leave to slow the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

“With so many workers already having access to a variety of sick leave options, we need to look very carefully at proposals to add a new layer of federal leave mandates,” the 2nd District Republican said in a prepared statement during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing.

“A number of questions remain unanswered,” he continued. “How would these paid leave requirements interact with existing leave policies? What kind of notification and certification would be required? And is it a wise idea to put employers in the business of diagnosing medical conditions and deciding when workers should be sent home, and when they’re well enough to return to work?”

In reaction to the H1N1 pandemic, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the panel, introduced legislation this month that would temporarily guarantee sick workers five days of paid leave if their employer directs or advises them to stay home.

“According to the CDC, an individual who comes to work with H1N1 will infect about 10 percent of his or her co-workers,” Miller said today in prepared testimony. “They recommend that any worker with an influenza-type illness stay home, and that employers should allow workers to stay home ‘without fear of any reprisals’ and ‘without fear of losing their jobs.’ But, that recommendation is easier made than followed.”

Millers said that currently more than 50 million workers do not have paid sick leave.

“… [T]aking a day off from work means a pay cut or worse,” he said. “Workers fear they will be punished for taking time off, either by losing pay because they do not have paid sick days or even fired. Employees in the food-service and hospitality industry, schools and health care fields are among those who cannot afford to stay home when they’re sick.”

But, Kline urged Congress to put the numbers in context before moving forward with emergency legislation.

According to Kline, the vast majority of workers in the United States already have access to paid sick leave, and the existing Family and Medical Leave Act provides workers unpaid leave for medical reasons.

Calling the path ahead “new and unknown territory,” Kline added that the challenge to lawmakers would be minimizing the spread of the virus “while avoiding the creation of confusing, duplicative, and costly new mandates that could harm the very workers we’re trying to protect.”

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