“Quarantine Leave” Bill Exempts State Employees

By Steve Haner

Employees caught in this pandemic with no paid time off for health issues have been in a deep bind, and many of those with reasonable leave available have probably burned it all. It is one of several problems exacerbated by this government-led economic crash.

Congress, in a bipartisan response supported by President Donald Trump, created a temporary mandate in one of its early COVID-19 relief bills. It can provide as much as 12 weeks of paid leave (more here). Some in the Virginia General Assembly think that is not good enough. 

In the regular session before the pandemic, the Virginia House of Delegates considered a generic state-mandated paid leave program, a bill eventually rejected by the Appropriations Committee. Now in special session, with the pandemic adding great urgency, the House is trying again.  This bill, as well, needs to fail. It is narrower and would expire by next summer, but it still needs to fail.

As introduced a few weeks ago, House Bill 5116 (from Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge) applied to both public and private employees. It was the potential cost on state and local governments that sank Guzman’s bill from the regular session, so she is instead advancing a substitute that applies to private employees (including non-profits), but exempts the state.

That alone is a fatal flaw. The General Assembly should never impose an employee benefit mandate on private employers it is not willing to accept for its own workers. That should be the rule for health insurance, for pay and benefits, and for workers compensation. Once they start down the road of exempting their own employees and budget, there is nothing to restrain the legislators.

What does this bill do?

Any employee working 20 hours or more per week is entitled to paid leave equal to the same value per week for their own COVID-19 illness or quarantine, or that of a family member. If the illness or quarantine extends beyond two weeks, the employee gets no more money, but their job must be held. There is nothing in the bill that limits this to one occurrence per employee or exempts companies that already have reasonable leave policies.

On its face, it applies only to employers with more than 50 employees, but there is a catch:  “…unless a grant program dedicated to assisting employers provide paid quarantine leave, funded by federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds, is available to such employers in the Commonwealth.” If such a fund exists, is there any guarantee the employer will get help? No. But the mandate is then imposed. The General Assembly could create such a fund and put in $1.

The coordination with the existing federal mandate is tricky, but Guzman’s goal is to make sure the law picks up anybody not covered by the federal program.

  1. An employer that provides an eligible employee with paid quarantine leave as required by any other state or federal law, paid sick leave, or other paid leave shall be deemed to have satisfied its obligations under the provisions of this section with respect to such eligible employee, provided that such leave can be used for the purposes set forth in subsection B and the eligible employee is provided an amount of paid leave that meets or exceeds (emphasis added) the requirements of subsection A.

If the state benefit would be larger than the federal benefit, the employer must make up the difference. And, as is standard with today’s General Assembly output, employers may be sued by employees up to two years later if the worker feels they were denied leave improperly. Many bills now include a new civil cause of action against employers.

The state might not escape all costs. Most Medicaid services are provided by private companies, and the fiscal impact statement on the original bill saw costs approaching $30 million per year, since the state program would be reimbursing them. That gives you some idea of the cost through the whole state economy.

There is also a vague, but still enforceable, requirement that employers provide sick leave in the state’s new COVID-19 workplace safety regulations. How that interconnects with the federal requirements and this bill is yet another complication.

The bottom line here is that too many in this newly “refreshed” General Assembly see the state’s employers as (1) exploiters or (2) in the words of Winston Churchill, “a cow they can milk.” Most employers have busted their tails to find a way to work through this mess and maintain as many employees as they can. How many they can afford to hire back remains a concern.

The following comes from a letter sent to legislators seeking votes against this bill, from a coalition of business entities. The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy is a signer.

For months, Virginia’s businesses have faced intense stress as they were ordered to close or operate in an extremely limited capacity. The economic turmoil suffered by the business community during the global pandemic has only somewhat abated as Virginia has gradually reopened. Many businesses have watched helplessly as their revenue slowed to a trickle or dried up entirely. Business owners continue to temper their expectations of future economic conditions as the COVID-19 public health crisis is expected to continue.

Without question, it is a whole lot safer to kick somebody when they are down.  Too many of these legislators are enjoying the opportunity to do that to the Commonwealth’s employers.

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15 responses to ““Quarantine Leave” Bill Exempts State Employees

  1. https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/09/09/things-we-cannot-support-advocates-back-away-from-quarantine-leave-bill-after-major-changes/

    This appeared after I had written. It appears Virginia Mercury’s friends don’t like the amended bill now either. Perhaps it won’t get past second reading today after all.

  2. shocking! I don’t like it either and agree with Steve. More shocking!

    If the Dems keep screwing around – they’re gonna lose the Senate… in Virginia….

    • If Biden wins the Dems may well lose the House of Delegates. The losing side in the national election always seems to get out the vote in the off-year Virginia election.

  3. This story reminds me of the ABC Store decision by our all knowing governor. It was too dangerous to let people into a privately run small business but not nearly so dangerous for the employees in a state owned monopoly.

  4. A comment (actually on yesterday’s story) from a restaurant owner. It wasn’t sent to me for publication, so I have removed the company name:

    “Our restaurant is surviving off our patio and to go business right now. That will only last as long as the weather holds out so we lose our patio in early November. Tenting that space is expensive and would wipe out any opportunity to make a profit unless we get our bar/indoor dining back. The to go only model does not work long term.

    We are still running at 50%-55% of pre COVID revenue and this won’t change until white collar offices come back to work. We have tens of thousands of dollars of equipment sitting idle across the Central Virginia area——— our catering operation is running at 30% of pre COVID numbers, last year we did $4M and this year we won’t break $1M.

    We won’t be here in another 6 months unless we see revenue back . I am worried for the long term. State and local government best start doing something to improve our economic situation vs wasted time on paid time off or police reforms(emphasis added)———- another 6 months of this and we will let someone else deal with paid time off for our employees and the ETS compliances!”

  5. I know some want to blame the indoor restaurant issue on the government , on Northam, on the media on someone because of the harm that is unquestionably continuing.

    I don’t think the govt nor the media is the real problem.

    Advice was given to “stay out of the way” and “go hide under your bed” and more than a few are doing just that.

    Others seem to be more than willing to go “congregate” and when they do – as science suggested – the virus don’t care about your politics or intelligence – it will infect you and in turn anyone you come into contact with including your own family comorbidities or not.

    I’m not buying that restaurants will “go away” either. Some might, maybe more than a few but others will adjust and evolve -survive – and be around when things open up again. Others will have “hibernated”. When the economy comes back – they will come back.

    COVID19 “gloom and doom” coming from folks who natter about “gloom and doom” even in normal times… as their “thing” – I duno.

    I’m not saying everything is hunky-dory – it’s not – there is real harm ongoing and people being hurt – but the main culprit is the virus and we can’t seem to accept that and have to affix blame on the usual suspects.

    • I largely agree. Plenty of restaurants are open to 50% but people are staying away in droves. Others I do see fairly busy. But in other states, indoor dining is still verboten.

      • People up my way are taking the masks and social distancing pretty seriously – not every one – but 90% + and you’ll get dirty looks in the checkouts if you don’t stay back! I’m a repeat offender. I just forget.

        Haircut – we both wear masks – no one waiting – someone walks in without mask as I finish and leave.

        We still have folks who think the virus is a made-up media hoax and they have “rights” to not wear a mask.

        no virus – just “alarmist” blathering:

        from FLS this morning (yes, another lying leftist liberal rag):

        ” All members of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office in Stafford County were barred from the county courthouse Wednesday after three paralegals in the office tested positive for COVID-19.

        In addition to the three paralegals who tested positive for the virus in the Stafford office, five others who were exposed to them are under quarantine, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen. ”


        ” The Pamunkey Regional Jail is on lockdown after roughly 70 percent of inmates recently tested for COVID-19 had positive results, officials said Wednesday.”

        ” And, the outbreak at Brookside Rehab and Nursing Center in Warrenton continues its deadly rampage. Two more fatalities were reported at the facility Wednesday for a total of 11 deaths and 76 cases. The deaths account for more than half of the 20 COVID-19 related deaths in Fauquier County.”


        ” COVID-19 outbreak at Virginia’s largest women’s prison concerns inmate advocates

        Forty-one offenders recently tested positive for COVID-19 at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, which had largely been keeping the virus at bay.

        Lisa Kinney, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, reported Wednesday that the most recent testing at Fluvanna, the state’s largest prison for women, was prompted when supervisors reported last week that two offenders appeared to have COVID-19 symptoms.“We put those two offenders into quarantine and tested them. When the tests came back positive [Friday], we immediately tested everyone in their building—234 tests—until 2 o’clock [Saturday] morning. From that, we got 39 additional positives,” wrote Kinney in an email.”

  6. Seems like the sewage testing is an effective way to monitor and then take further action when the virus level goes up.

    If they do that at prisons and nursing homes – courthouses, schools, etc – they know if there is virus in the building – and they apparently can determine if it is a little or a lot.

    So – you check the sewage weekly – and if it is a little – you might increase testing of the sewage. If there is a lot, you might want to random test in the building or neighborhood.

    When you get a “hit” – you contact trace ..

    rinse, repeat.

    Yes, it’s a lot of resources and work – but this is how we more fully reopen.

    We live with the virus – but not stupidly.

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