Silicon Valley Rising

Protect public health: Pass paid sick leave!

All working people need to be able to take paid time off if they or their family gets sick, especially as we deal with COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak presents an urgent challenge to city leaders: what can we do to protect working people and public health in this moment? A key part of the response must be ensuring everyone can take paid time off if they or their family gets sick.

No one should have to choose between making rent and taking care of their family, yet far too many working people — especially people who cook and serve us food, care for our children and seniors, and clean our buildings — have no option but to keep working while sick.

A CDC study found that nationally, 1 in 5 food service workers had to work while they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.1 A 2014 study found that 1 in 3 workers in San José lacked any paid sick leave, with women, Latinx, and Black workers particularly at risk.2 Sick days were especially rare in jobs requiring frequent contact with the public, such as restaurant workers, child care providers, and cleaning staff.

This has serious consequences for our public health. Researchers found that during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, roughly 30% of sick employees had to keep working — and may have infected up to 7 million more people as a result.3 Sick days are vital outside of a pandemic as well: the CDC estimates that providing paid sick leave to workers could decrease the number of workdays lost due to flu and similar illnesses by up to 11 million a year.4

With Santa Clara county grappling with some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the nation, our organizations are calling on all cities in the county to immediately enact strong paid sick leave ordinances to protect our public health.

Silicon Valley cities have come together before, taking a first-in-the-nation regional approach to raising the minimum wage. Now we must do so again to protect our communities, workers, and families both during the current outbreak and for the years to come.

Each city in Santa Clara County should act now to ensure all working people can immediately access the paid sick days they may need to cover the CDC’s recommended 14-day quarantine during this crisis, prepare for any future outbreaks, and keep our families and communities healthy every day.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5578438/
  2. https://www.wpusa.org/research/access-to-paid-sick-days/ Some of these workers likely now have access to three sick days per year under a newer state law, but many do not, and three days is vastly insufficient for anyone placed under a 14-day quarantine.
  3. https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/B284.pdf
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/03/our-lack-paid-sick-leave-will-make-coronavirus-worse/
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