Bill would prevent Maine workers from being punished for getting sick
Sick leave is often taken for granted by a majority of white-collar workers in Maine, but for many blue-color and service-sector employees, it’s just not an option. Nationally, fewer than one of every three workers who earn $19,000 or less per year have access to paid sick leave, with food service, personal health care and child care workers among the most likely to go without.
“Everyone gets sick, but without sick leave, workers are forced to choose between their health and their incomes,” said Senator Rebecca Millett, who introduced her bill to guarantee paid sick leave for employees of large companies before the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on Monday.
“Access to sick leave, as would be guaranteed by this piece of legislation, ensures that no Mainer has to choose between their health and their economic security. It guarantees in a state that values families, no mom or dad is punished for choosing to care for their sick child, or that no child is punished for taking the time necessary to care for a sick parent,” said Millett.
The bill would require companies with 50 or more employees to offer paid sick leave, and companies with fewer than 50 employees to offer sick leave without pay. Workers would accrue sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked and would be able to use that time to care for themselves or immediate family members.
In addition to an economic and family burden for low-wage workers, lack of sick leave also represents a significant public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 2.5 million cases of foodborne illness per year were caused by sick restaurant workers contaminating food while they were at work — and more than half of all norovirus outbreaks can be traced back to sick food service workers. Parents without sick leave are more likely to send their sick kids to school or daycare, putting other families at risk of falling ill, rather than miss a day’s pay.
“My father, weakened by congestive heart failure, was able to remain home in the final years of his life with the direct support of home health aides,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “He was greatly endangered, however, when one of the direct care workers arrived for her shift with a case of pneumonia. She did not mean my father harm; the pay for that overnight shift represented a week’s worth of groceries. Unfortunately, when my parents pointed out to the agency the danger of having an ill employee present, she was fired. This is but one example of the impossible position workers are put in every day because they cannot earn one paid sick day.”
LD 1159 would affect about 230,000 employees across the state.
“Paid sick leave is about more than public health. It’s about economic fairness and the overall health of our economy,” said Maine People’s Alliance legislative director Taryn Hallweaver in testimony before the committee. “Maine urgently needs young families to stay here and to move here, and policies that support raising healthy children benefit all of us. When families don’t have to choose between their health and their economic stability, it’s good for them, good for our workplaces, and good for our overall economy.”
Photo of Sen. Millett via official website.
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