Sodexo, a major provider of food service management to skilled nursing and senior communities, has extended its sick leaves policies to cover workers affected by COVID-19.

The company will ensure sick pay for all full- and part-time employees for up to 21 work days if they have a confirmed case of COVID-19 or are asked not to come to work for COVID-19 related symptoms. Vacation time and other paid time off will not have to be used during any COVID-19 related absences.

“Sodexo is committed to the health and safety of our employees, our clients and the communities we serve, and that includes supporting our employees where we can if they get sick as they service our clients,” said Sarosh Mistry, President Sodexo USA. “As the service industry deals with the business implications of COVID-19, it’s just as important that we look at the human impact of our work as it is that we look at the bottom line.”

After employees exhaust their accrued sick leave, Sodexo will provide additional sick leave for up to 21 regularly scheduled workdays at no cost to the employee and regardless of how many sick days the employee has accrued. If the employee is unable to return to work at that point, then they will be permitted to borrow up to seven additional days of sick leave.

The House of Representatives on Friday approved an economic bill in response to the coronavirus requiring most employers to guarantee paid sick leave for 14 days at at least two-thirds of employees’ regular pay rates. Workers qualify if they are sick and have to be quarantined or treated, or if they need to care for an infected family member or a child whose childcare setting closes. (A Senate vote was pending at publication.)

Sodexo announced its policy, which exceeds the requirement, on the same day.

Researchers from who have previously studied the role paid sick leave has in stopping a contagious virus urged the government and more employers to act.

“Those who lack paid sick leave are highly represented among food service workers, day care workers, and home health aides who work in positions that can greatly influence the health of others, especially the elderly, vulnerably ill, and children,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University.  “It is dangerous when any employees are sick with highly contagious viruses but have no other choice but to report to work or else lose wages.”

DeRigne and Patricia Stoddard-Dare, Ph.D., a social work professor at Cleveland State, found workers without paid sick leave are less likely to stay home when ill and are more likely to delay or forgo needed healthcare for themselves and family.

During the 2009 H1NI outbreak, workers who were sick and did not stay home exposed an additional 7 million people to the virus. Lack of paid sick leave was estimated to have resulted in an additional 1,500 deaths.