Pandemics, Paid Sick Leaves, and Tax Institutions

53 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2020 Last revised: 14 Feb 2022

See all articles by Alex Zhang

Alex Zhang

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: July 20, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is currently ravaging the world, and the United States has been largely unsuccessful at containing the coronavirus. One long-standing policy failure stands out as having exacerbated the pandemic in our country: the lack of a national mandate of paid sick leaves, without which workers face financial and workplace-cultural pressures to attend work while sick, thus spreading the virus to their fellow employees and the public at large.

This Article provides the blueprint for a national, subsidized mandate of paid sick leaves and two additional insights about our tax institutions as mechanisms of effectuating broader societal goals. It first justifies a paid-sick-leave mandate on the grounds of market failures (both cognitive biases and externalities) and workplace equality. It also argues for the need of subsidies in order to protect lower-income workers from unemployment risks imposed by a national mandate. Second, the Article critically assesses the current federal legislative approach utilized in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The Article then proposes designing a national employer mandate of paid sick leaves funded by general-revenue business tax credits and providing partial wage replacement.

This Article’s discussion of paid sick leaves yields two insights about our tax institutions. First, it questions the role of payroll taxes, which are highly regressive, impose burdens almost exclusively on labor, and are normatively unjustified when the spending funded by payroll taxes benefits the broader non-wage-earning public. Second, the Article reveals the malleability of tax institutions with respect to funding, administrability, and costs. These comparative advantages of tax institutions make them perennially popular in times of crisis.

Keywords: tax law, labor and employment law, COVID-19

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Alex, Pandemics, Paid Sick Leaves, and Tax Institutions (July 20, 2020). 52 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 383, 2021, Available at SSRN: or

Alex Zhang (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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