Sen. Millett’s bill would guarantee paid sick days for working Mainers

Sen. Millett’s bill would guarantee paid sick days for working Mainers

41 million people, more than a third of American workers, don’t have the option of taking a single paid sick day from their jobs. A new bill introduced Wednesday at a State House press conference aims to make things a little easier for workers in Maine.

“Sick leave is a benefit white-collar professionals take for granted. But for thousands and thousands of Mainers, particularly low-income workers, a lack of access to sick leave means the decision to take time off from work to recover from illness or take care of a sick child or parent is a choice between the health of their families and their financial security,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat from Cape Elizabeth who introduced the legislation.

The bill would require businesses with 50 or more employees to offer paid days off for workers to recover from illness or care for a sick family member. It would also allow workers to use sick days as “safe days” to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault. The bill would requires smaller businesses to allow workers to accumulate unpaid leave, guaranteeing that no worker will be fired or punished for falling ill.

“It’s women who both disproportionately bear the burdens of caretaking while also being more likely to work in low-wage jobs with no paid sick leave,” said Eliza Townsend, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby in a statement on the bill. “Ensuring that our policies allow workers to balance their responsibilities at work and at home is key to the economic security of women and their families.”

According to research by the State Innovation Exchange, nearly one in four adults in the United States says they have been fired or threatened with job loss for taking time off to recover from illness or care for a sick loved one. Low-income workers – including food service, personal health care and child care workers – are among the least likely to have paid sick days. Nationally, less than one of every three workers who earn $19,000 or less per year have access to paid sick days, compared to more than 80 percent of workers who make $65,000 or more per year.

The bill also has the support of Maine businesses who already offer paid leave to their employees.

“Along with my family, I co-founded two clothing manufacturing businesses in Portland — Old Port Wool & Textile and American Roots. Combined, depending on the season, my two companies employ as many as 15 Mainers and we offer paid sick leave to all our workers.  If our small businesses can do it, others can too,” said Dory Waxman. “We do it not only because of the morale and productivity benefits for our businesses, but because it’s the right thing to do. No worker should have to choose between their health and their income. Universal sick leave will mean a more productive workforce, less turnover, improved public health and stronger families with more buying power.”

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.

“When working families have to choose between their health and their income, they jeopardize both,” said Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson, who joined Sen. Millett at the announcement. “Working while sick is a surefire way to stay sick longer and be less productive on the job. Staying home means losing income or worse, being fired. The United States is one of the only advanced countries in the world that forces working people to make this choice. Maine can and should break out from the pack and ensure fairness for workers and families with universal sick leave.”

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