Maine small business owners ask Sen. King to support paid sick days

Maine small business owners ask Sen. King to support paid sick days

On Thursday, members of the Maine Small Business Coalition submitted a letter to U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine, encouraging him to support S. 497, the Healthy Families Act, which would provide a minimum standard for earned, job-protected sick and family leave for all U.S. workers.

The letter, penned by Maine business owners in the food service and childcare industries, noted the public health risk of employees going to work while sick and the bind that employees are often put in, having to choose between going to work sick and putting customers and coworkers at risk or staying home and losing their jobs. The business owners also noted that they all already provide sick and family leave in excess of the minimum required by this law.

“When my employees are sick, I want them to stay home and get better,” the letter reads. “That’s just basic human decency. It’s also important for my business. If my employees bring illness in to our workplace and expose their co-workers or our customers to illness, it hurts the credibility and operation of my business. If they take the time they need to recover, they get well faster and are much more productive when they do return to work.”

The Health Families Act would provide a pathway for all public and private sector employees to earn job-protected sick or family leave, up to seven days per year, at a rate of one sick leave hour for every thirty hours worked. Employers with fifteen or more employees would be required to provide earned, job-protected, and paid sick or family leave for employees. The law also provides for using family leave to recover from domestic abuse.

In its current form, the Healthy Families Act was introduced in February by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The need for such a law has risen in response to disturbing stories of employees in the food service industry going to work ill or losing their job for staying home while sick. In 2014, a “sandwich artist” at a Subway fast-food restaurant in Freeport, Texas, contracted a stomach bug while working a shift. Despite repeatedly vomiting, her manager would not allow her to leave her post. The employee eventually collapsed and was taken to a hospital by ambulance. She was fired that day for “poor performance and insubordination.”

This incident in Texas does not appear to be an isolated one. According to a 2010 report by the Restaurant Opportunity Center, 63% of restaurant workers reported cooking or serving food while sick. Almost 90% reported not having paid sick days at work.

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