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In fight against COVID-19, Colorado to make child care workers eligible for paid sick leave

An early childhood teacher leads her class out onto the playground in Aurora in 2017.
An early childhood teacher leads her class out onto the playground in Aurora in 2017.
Kathryn Scott/The Denver Post

Colorado child care workers, school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers are among those who would have access to temporary paid sick leave under emergency rules intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Jared Polis Tuesday, the state Department of Labor and Employment is issuing emergency rules that require employers in food service, hospitality, home health, community living facilities, education, and child care to provide up to four days of paid sick leave for workers with flu-like symptoms. The time period is to allow these workers to be tested for COVID-19.

Workers in these industries have a lot of contact with the public and often earn low hourly wages with few benefits. And they cannot do their jobs from home.

Colorado has no law requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. A 2017 report on early childhood workers co-authored by Diana Schaack of the University of Colorado Denver found that approximately 53% of center-based staff receive paid sick days as a benefit, and approximately 22% of licensed family child care providers have paid sick days in their contracts with families.

The state labor department has authority to mandate temporary paid sick leave during an emergency to protect public health. The rules, which are expected to be formalized Wednesday, will be reviewed every 30 days. They can remain in effect for up to 120 days.

Employers, not the state, will be responsible for paying this short-term sick leave. The rule applies to public and private employers alike.

The sick leave order will not require employers to pay wages during the 14-day quarantine period or during any hospitalization that might occur for workers who test positive. State labor officials are working with the federal government to determine if they can make unemployment benefits available to those workers who test positive for COVID-19 and are placed under quarantine. Workers who have the flu or other illnesses would not be eligible for those benefits.

Polis also urged all private employers to offer paid sick leave as part of a broader public effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Polis said workers should not have to choose between protecting the public health and paying their bills.

Polis said he took this step both to encourage sick people to stay home and to increase public confidence in continuing to go about daily life.

As of Thursday afternoon, Colorado had 17 presumed positive cases of COVID-19, a number that authorities expect to rise as testing becomes more widespread. Young children do not seem to be at high risk of becoming seriously ill from the new coronavirus, but they may be able to transmit the virus to others, something researchers are working to better understand.

Chalkbeat reporter Ann Schimke contributed to this report.

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