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Opinion A pandemic shows why the United States should not be one of only 11 nations without paid sick leave

Elementary school teacher Carrie Landheer protests for stronger covid-19 safety protocols on Jan. 7 in Oakland, Calif. (Noah Berger/AP)

The United States is one of only 11 countries on the planet that do not mandate paid sick leave at the national level.

This has long been problematic, but in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as the omicron variant is spreading rapidly, it’s disgraceful that a significant proportion of American workers do not have access to paid sick leave.

That puts too many — including those who earn the least — in a position of having to choose between going to work with covid-19 or staying home and losing several days of income.

Nearly 80 percent of American workers have at least some paid sick leave, according to a Labor Department survey last year, but that masks a disparity: 95 percent of the highest-paid workers have access to paid sick leave, while only 35 percent of the lowest-paid workers do.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together to pass emergency legislation to aid the economy and require more firms to offer paid sick leave. But that requirement is now gone. Last year, Democrats also passed the American Rescue Plan, which included a tax break for companies that offered paid sick leave. That incentive expired in September.

If Congress moves forward with any sort of omicron relief, it should include a requirement that all companies offer emergency paid sick leave. At a minimum, this should be in place for pandemic-related absences.

Omicron has brought into focus how quickly the virus spreads when sick people don’t stay home. About 5 million Americans are home sick or isolating, according to research firm Capital Economics.

Many front-line workers in grocery stores and restaurants are especially at risk since they are the least likely to have paid sick leave. Red Lobster workers are among those who have reported they are going to work ill because of a lack of paid sick leave. A company spokesperson said, “No one is allowed to work sick,” and no one should ever receive pressure to do so. But the reality on the ground is often different.

McDonald’s offers 10 days of paid sick leave for crew members in corporate-owned stores, and Domino’s Pizza offers five, but most locations for these well-known brands are franchises that don’t have the same policies.

Prominent retailers, including Walmart, Amazon, CVS and Walgreens, just scaled back their paid sick leave from two weeks to one after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its recommended quarantine guideline to five days. However, the CDC guideline was supposed to be for asymptomatic people only. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., mandate paid sick leave, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, but that’s not enough. The fact that almost every other nation in the world requires paid sick leave shows that employers are more than capable of protecting their workers — and customers — by doing the right thing.

Congress should require all companies to offer paid sick leave.

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Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).

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