Democrats Thursday reintroduced legislation that would allow employees to earn paid sick leave, a benefit 43 million employees don’t currently have access to.

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s executive memorandum giving federal employees access to six weeks of paid parental leave, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, that would allow American employees to earn up to seven sick days that can be used to care for family members or address personal medical needs.

“No one should ever have to choose between their health — or a loved one’s health — and their economic security,” Murray said in prepared remarks Thursday. “But our outdated policies are forcing too many workers to make that kind of choice.”

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According to the bill, companies with at least 15 employees will be required to provide each employee a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours a year.

“Research has shown that paid sick days can reduce the spread of contagious illnesses like the flu, reduce occupational injuries, result in more preventive cancer screenings and other preventive care, and reduce unnecessary visits to the emergency room,” according to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. As an example, the American Journal of Public Health found that the lack of paid sick days contributed to an additional 5,000,000 cases of influenza-like illness during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

While the Society for Human Resource Management is in support of employers providing paid sick leave, the group suggests Congress should find a way to incentivize rather than mandate sick leave.

As an example, Kelly Hastings, a senior government relations advisor with SHRM, points to Family and Medical Leave Act, and the wave of employers offering a generous amount of leave suddenly scaling back to the minimum standards.

The recent Affordable Care Act mandates are another example to a mandate scaling back part-time employees and bringing more and more people under the 30-hour mark.

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But additional concerns focus on how the legislation might affect the trending paid time-off bank strategy employers are using. According to Hastings, 58% of SHRM members are currently offering sick leave via a PTO bank compared to 33% offering it through the historical stand-alone sick leave.

The new legislation could push employers to remove the PTO banks or make it more difficult to strategize, she notes.

But as Congress continues not to take any definitive action, other states and local governments continue to pass their own form of sick leave laws, and the Philadelphia City Council Thursday added to that trend, voting 14-2 to approve an ordinance that will guarantee workers in the city the right to earn paid sick time.

The National Partnership for Women and Families says 19 jurisdictions across the country have – or will soon have – paid sick days laws in place, with many having been established in the last two years.

“No one should have to choose between their health or family and their job when common illnesses strike,” added Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, commending Philadelphia’s vote. “It’s time for Congress to act.”

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