Coronavirus and workers' rights: Sick leave, job protection?

ST. JOSEPH, Ind. (WNDU) --- With the coronavirus now confirmed in St. Joseph County, concerns are also arising over people's jobs, as some workplaces might consider and already have adjusted operations to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Most Americans who work for someone else don't know what their protections are, and for most part, they're not used to having to worry about that because they're at a job. They feel like things are going well. It's only when something bad happens, an emergency crisis happens, where then things get kind of scary," explained Dan Graff, a U.S. labor historian.

The director of the Higgins Labor Program at the University of Notre Dame offered a sobering reality for U.S. workers.

"There's no [federal] right to sick pay - really no right to sick days without pay," Graff offered.

According to Graff, one-quarter of Americans who work for someone else do not have paid sick days. In other words, those employees are not able to take time off without losing pay. Meanwhile, seven out of ten low-wage workers do not have paid sick days.

Should the coronavirus send the national economy into a recession, it would likely be worrisome for workers.

"Vast majority of American workers don't have protections that are going to allow them to keep their jobs so people do need to be worried," said Graff.

Local attorneys, like Peter Agostino, reported employers are seeking their advice to prepare for adjusted schedules due to the virus.

"I have gotten some communication and calls with respect to about employers setting up policies and what do we do - what can we do - and those types of things," said Agostino.

Graff said one-fifth of states have sick day provisions for workers. However, the Indiana legislature doesn't allow local jurisdictions to pass laws requiring private companies provide sick days.