“It will send a great message to them that in the middle of the pandemic while they had to continue to put their lives on the line to provide care . . . that we care about you,” said Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William), the bill’s sponsor.
Guzman noted that such jobs are overwhelmingly held by women and particularly women of color. She said her own mother was a home health-care worker who never received a paid sick day.
Supporters said the coronavirus pandemic highlights why the bill is needed, with home health-care workers often on the front line of exposure to the disease. They also care for elderly and infirm people who are the most vulnerable to infection, so continuing to work while sick is particularly dangerous.
“Paid sick days are the lifeline we need to protect our health,” said Thomasine Wilson, a home health-care worker who is active in Virginia with the Service Employees International Union.
Guzman’s bill initially was aimed at all “essential” workers, but was amended in the Senate to apply only to those serving home health care clients using Medicaid.
“This is a huge step forward in the fight for paid sick days,” Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said Thursday when the measure was approved by the state Senate. She vowed to continue advocating for paid sick leave for all workers.
The measure was supported by advocates for small businesses, who said it would “level the playing field” by requiring employers of all sizes to offer the same benefits.
The House of Delegates sent the bill to Northam on Friday by a vote of 54 to 44, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against.
The House also approved a bill Friday to help health-care workers infected by the coronavirus get workers’ compensation, by creating a presumption that they caught the disease through direct exposure on the job.
That measure, which would be retroactive for workers exposed as far back as last March, will go to the Senate on Saturday. A companion bill that would create a workers’ comp presumption for first responders — police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and regional jail officials — was still working its way through a House and Senate conference committee.
Negotiators reached a deal on that one Friday to make it retroactive only to Sept. 1, 2020, to limit the potential cost for local governments. That conference committee agreement had yet to go to either chamber for a vote.
Both measures seemed to have good prospects in the Senate. Del. Chris L. Hurst (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill for health-care workers, said Friday that he and Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk) — who sponsored the first responders bill — had enlisted leaders such as former governor Terry McAuliffe to convince senators that the costs would not be excessive.