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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP) Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman March 17, 2020

Did Matt Gaetz and Ted Cruz oppose paid sick leave but take it for themselves?

If Your Time is short

  • Gaetz and Cruz both placed themselves in self-quarantine after coming in contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus at a conservative political conference.

  • As a Florida state representative, Gaetz voted for a 2013 bill to ban cities from requiring employers to offer paid sick leave.

  • Cruz voted against an amendment in the U.S. Senate in 2015 that would have provided seven days’ paid sick leave.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both put themselves in quarantine after learning they were in contact with someone who later tested positive for coronavirus.

Occupy Democrats, a liberal group, said that both lawmakers are hypocritical, because they have paid leave through their own jobs but took stances in the past against paid sick leave for other workers.

"Hypocritical politicians of the day, March 12, 2020," stated the Facebook post, which was deleted from Occupy Democrats’ Facebook page after we asked about it. "Rep Matt Gaetz was exposed to coronavirus, took 2 weeks paid sick leave off from Congress to self-quarantine. Voted in 2013 to make it illegal for any city in Florida to enact paid sick leave."

The post, which we found posted elsewhere, states that Cruz also took two weeks’ paid sick leave and "voted in 2015 in the U.S. Senate against paid sick leave."

We found that while the post gets the lawmakers’ votes right, it makes a notable leap when it states that the men took paid sick leave. 

As members of Congress, they don’t have to take sick leave but were able to work from home at their own discretion. It’s a privilege that many working people don’t have. 

Federal law does not require paid sick leave, but 12 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws to require it, and other cities have similar policies.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Gaetz and Cruz self-quarantine

Both Gaetz and Cruz self-quarantined in March after they learned that they had come in contact with a person at the Conservative Political Action Conference who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Gaetz announced his self-quarantine on March 9 and said he would complete it March 12. Gaetz said he took a lab test and that it came back negative for COVID-19. Cruz announced his self-quarantine March 8. Cruz said he would continue his self-quarantine until March 17. An initial press release appears to show Cruz wasn’t tested.

Both Cruz and Gaetz said they were working remotely while self-quarantined. 

"I’m on calls with my staff, I’m doing a radio interview a little bit later, I think I might be doing a phone interview on television a little bit later, so I’m doing all the things I would normally do, just from my house," Gaetz told The Spectator.

News releases from Cruz’s office during the past several days showed he continued to work on legislation and urged the administration to take certain steps to track coronavirus cases

Members of Congress can take time off when they are ill and for other excused absences, and they continue to be paid, said Brad Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. But they can’t vote remotely.

Traditionally, members have entered statements in the Congressional Record after they’ve missed votes, stating how they would have voted if present. 

More about their votes

So Gaetz and Cruz were working from home, not on paid sick leave. But have they opposed paid sick leave for others? 

As a Florida state representative in 2013, Gaetz voted in favor of HB 655, which banned local governments from requiring employers to provide employment benefits, including paid sick time. It passed the Senate 25-13 and passed the House 76-41, and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law.

The bill was a response to a petition signed by 50,000 Orange County voters seeking a voter referendum on sick pay. Those against sick leave requirements included the state’s business lobby, Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants (which owns Olive Garden).

Gaetz said recently he opposed the measure because he didn’t want local governments making many different rules. 

Cruz voted against sick leave in 2015, when U.S. senators considered an amendment to provide seven days of paid sick leave.

Amid efforts to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19, federal lawmakers are again talking about sick leave. 

The House passed a bill March 14 that included 14 days’ paid sick leave, but it only covers small and mid-sized companies, and it doesn’t cover workers who are self-employed. The bill is expected to go to the Senate this week.

Vicki Shabo, an expert on paid leave at the New America think tank, said that close to 30% of private-sector workers don’t have paid sick leave, and that’s disproportionally in low-wage service and care industries.

While workers who have flexibility or are in positions of power can choose to stay home if they want to, most people don’t have job protections or security to be able to do that, Shabo said. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post by Occupy Democrats said Gaetz and Cruz took two weeks paid sick leave to self-quarantine. Gaetz "voted in 2013 to make it illegal for any city in Florida to enact paid sick leave" and Cruz "voted in 2015 in the U.S. Senate against paid sick leave."

The post correctly notes that Gaetz and Cruz have voted against paid sick leave. But it goes wrong in saying that the two men are on paid sick leave now. They’re actually working from home, and their positions give them that discretion. However, it’s important to note that they can’t vote remotely on matters before Congress. 

The claim is partially accurate but leaves out important context. We rate it Half True. 

Our Sources

Occupy Democrats, Facebook post, March 12, 2020

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Tweet, March 9, 2020

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Tweet, March 10, 2020

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Statement on COVID-19, March 8, 2020

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Cruz Announces Decision to Extend Self-Quarantine Until March 17 Out of Abundance of Caution, March 13, 2020

Tampa Bay Times, Matt Gaetz made fun of coronavirus scare. Now he’s in self-isolation. March 9, 2020

The Spectator, Matt Gaetz calls from self-quarantine, March 11, 2020

Roll Call, Vulnerable Senators Switch Votes on Paid Sick Leave (Updated), March 26, 2015

The Hill, GOP blocks minimum wage, sick leave proposals, Aug. 5, 2015

Senate.gov, Murray amendment 798, March 26, 2015 

Florida House of Representatives, HB 655, 2013

Orlando Sentinel, Local laws on sick pay targeted, Jan. 17, 2013

Orlando Sentinel, Scott blocks paid sick time vote in Orange, statewide, June 14, 2013

Orlando Sentinel, No need for mandatory sick-leave law, task force says, Jan. 10, 2014

Mother Jones, Forced to Work Sick? That’s Fine With Disney, Red Lobster, and Their Friends at ALEC, 2013

Family Values @ Work, How Corporate Giants Try to Suppress Democracy, June 2013

Grassroots map, Preemption bills, Accessed March 13, 2020

Washington Post, Administration, congressional negotiators near deal on coronavirus economic relief package, March 13, 2020

U.S. Senate Committee on Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions, CORONAVIRUS: Murray, DeLauro Introduce New Emergency Paid Sick Days Legislation, March 6, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, Paid sick leave, Accessed March 13, 2020

Fox News, Interview with U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, March 13, 2020

Politico, House passes sweeping coronavirus response package, March 14, 2020

Washington Post, Why can’t Congress vote from home? March 12, 2020

PolitiFact, Paid sick leave policies came to Maryland, D.C. before Austin, May 3, 2019

Telephone interview, Ellen Bravo, Family Values @ Work strategic advisor, March 13, 2020

Telephone interview, Vicki Shabo, New America Senior Fellow, Paid Leave Policy and Strategy, Better Life Lab, March 13, 2020

Email interview, Brad Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, March 13, 2020

Email interview, Rafael Rivero, Occupy Democrats, March 16, 2020

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