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Pandemic Seasonal Workers Get Taste of Elusive Paid Sick Time

Nov. 25, 2020, 10:30 AM

Holiday seasonal workers often can’t get paid days off when they’re sick, but Covid-19 leave policies will provide a little relief to a significant number of this year’s cashiers, package carriers, and warehouse workers.

Through a combination of employment policies at Amazon, Target, UPS, and others, along with state and local emergency mandates, potentially hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers will have access to paid sick leave protections that ordinarily elude them.

These companies—each of which announced plans to hire 100,000 or more short-term workers ahead of the holiday shopping season—have said they’re offering 10 to 14 days of paid sick leave for coronavirus-related sickness or quarantine.

The policies make Covid-19 paid leave immediately available, avoiding the problem seasonal workers face with traditional sick-leave policies that require them to gradually accrue paid sick days over time.

“In most cases, temporary workers won’t have a lot of time to earn those days,” under traditional sick-leave policies, said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at the recruiting and job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., which also tracks seasonal hiring trends.

Retailers, e-commerce companies, and package delivery businesses have announced plans to hire 700,000 holiday seasonal workers, according to the firm’s research.

State, Local Mandates

Like the companies’ Covid-19 leave policies, a number of state and local governments have enacted emergency-leave mandates this year that aim to fill the gaps left by a federal paid sick leave requirement Congress enacted as part of its virus response in March. These state and local mandates also improve seasonal workers’ chances of having access to paid sick leave during the pandemic-era holiday season.

The federal requirement didn’t apply to employers with 500 or more workers—which exempted most if not all of the major employers of holiday seasonal workers.

But “a number of cities and states have stepped in to close these gaps,” said Jared Make, vice president at the advocacy group A Better Balance, expanding coverage both for seasonal and longer-term workers.

California, Colorado, and New York, among other states, enacted emergency-leave laws this year requiring employers to provide paid leave for Covid-19 reasons, as did Philadelphia and other cities. These state and local mandates applied to employers that were exempt from the federal requirements, including those businesses with more than 500 employees.

Waiting Periods

Mandates for traditional paid sick leave are now on the books in 13 states plus the District of Columbia and more than 20 cities. But the language of these mandates often provides another reason why seasonal workers can’t access paid sick days.

“Most of them have some restriction on how long you have to have been with the employer before you can start using sick leave,” said Diane M. Saunders, a management-side labor and employment attorney at Ogletree Deakins in Boston and co-chair of the firm’s retail practice group.

The details vary, but many of the states with sick-leave mandates let employers impose a 90-day waiting period before new hires can use the paid days off.

For worker advocates, the waiting periods are seen as having “a disproportionately negative impact on low-wage workers and seasonal workers,” who change jobs more frequently, Make said. Policymakers might be starting to agree that this is problematic, he said, noting that Colorado and New York didn’t include a waiting period in the permanent paid sick leave laws they enacted this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at; Andrew Harris at