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Published — September 25, 2020

Businesses cited for illegally denying workers paid COVID-19 sick leave double

A protester stops momentarily at a McDonald's drive-thru, as she joins fast-food workers protesting for a second day, outside the restaurant in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, Monday, April 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Introduction

A Smoothie King in Alabama. Four Subway restaurants. Seven McDonald’s franchises in seven states.

These are some of the businesses cited by the U.S Department of Labor for refusing to pay workers for time off when they contracted COVID-19 or needed to quarantine, according to updated documents the Center for Public Integrity obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

As of Aug. 21, the agency had issued 1,424 citations against hundreds of companies. That’s about double the number Public Integrity first reported in early August.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Donald Trump signed in March, requires most small- and medium-sized businesses to pay a worker’s full salary for two weeks if they become infected with COVID-19, and it prohibits businesses from firing employees for taking leave. The law exempts healthcare providers and businesses with more than 500 employees.

The law also guarantees working parents 10 weeks off at two-thirds pay if a worker’s child-care provider closed because of the pandemic. Employers get a tax credit to cover the cost.

In all, the businesses that broke the law owe $1.6 million in unpaid wages to 1,295 employees, who are not identified in the documents. Most of the workers are low-wage earners in the fast-food, hotel and construction industries. Some didn’t take leave when they were denied pay, so not all companies that violated the law owe employees money. 

Elston Bradshaw, a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service closes a mail truck door after delivering mail to an apartment complex on Thursday, June 14, 2018, in Aventura, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The employer with the most violations, however, is the U.S. Postal Service, which owed $225,586 to 126 people.

Other violators include three International House of Pancakes restaurants and the owners of the Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Red Roof Inn franchises.

Michael LeRoy, a labor and employment law professor at the University of Illinois, said many small businesses probably didn’t know their obligations under the law. But in general, he said, American companies don’t like to give workers paid time off.

“Employers have become accustomed to workers coming to work and spreading their illnesses and [employers] do not see that as a cost,” he said. “It reflects our cultural norm of putting business ahead of workers.”

Rosemarie Cipparulo, who teaches labor and employment law at Rutgers, said businesses can no longer argue they are ignorant of the law.

“Everyone should know about [the law] by now,” she said. “Employers get away with what they can for as long as they can. They assume low-wage workers aren’t going to know what their rights are under this law.”

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