Lawmakers Consider Mandating Paid Sick Leave

Businesses with more than nine employees would be required to let workers earn up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year.

Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, called on members of the Senate Finance Committee to support the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act, which she is sponsoring. Capital News Service photo by Megan Brockett.
Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, called on members of the Senate Finance Committee to support the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act, which she is sponsoring. Capital News Service photo by Megan Brockett.
By Megan Brockett
Capital News Service

Committees in both the House and the Senate heard legislation this week that would require many employers in Maryland to grant workers at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The proposal, which has so far received backing from 66 delegates and 19 senators, would make Maryland just the second state in the nation to mandate that private sector businesses provide paid sick days to workers.

Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, called on members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday to support the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act. She cited research that showed the measure would benefit more than 700,000 Maryland workers who are currently without paid sick leave and can miss out on income and risk losing their job when they or a family member become ill.

“Without sick leave, people are forced into making impossible choices between going to work and taking care of themselves and their families,” Pugh said, citing analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The bill before us seeks to alleviate that problem.”

Under the bill, businesses with more than nine employees would be required to let workers earn up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year and use up to 10 days a year. Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees would have to provide unpaid sick leave under the same standards.

Employees could use the time to recover from an illness -- physical or mental -- or an injury, care for a sick or injured family member, attend doctor's appointments and obtain other preventative care services for themselves and their families. The “safe leave” portion of the bill also permits workers to use their sick time in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Richard Turnage, who works as a cook at a sports bar in Charles County, was one of a handful of workers from the restaurant industry to testify in support of the bill, urging lawmakers to consider the health of both employees and customers.

Turnage, who does not have paid sick leave, said he was unable to take off work this winter when he and several colleagues became sick.

“Missing a day of work is a direct hit to my budget,” Turnage said. “I am a father, and not going to work means I can’t buy groceries or provide other essentials for my son.”

Turnage said not one employee could “afford a day off to get well” after the virus had spread among the staff.

“I took measures to make sure I kept sanitary contact with food, but with ... ill [waiters] and kitchen staff, I am sure some customers were affected,” he said.

In Maryland, 110 organization have joined the Working Matters coalition, the force helping to drive the movement in the state.

Melissa Broome, senior policy advocate at Job Opportunities Task Force/Working Matters, said there is an “overwhelming amount of support in our state for this legislation.”

The momentum that Broome said the movement has been gaining comes as support for paid sick leave legislation appears to be spreading across the nation. While only Connecticut has a statewide law mandating paid sick days, five major cities and Washington, D.C., have adopted similar measures, four of which passed within the last year.

But last session, similar Maryland bills failed to make it out of committee in either the Senate or the House. In hearings this week, both Pugh and Delegate John Olszewski, Jr., D-Baltimore, who is sponsoring the measure in the House, drew attention to the differences between last year’s bill and this one.

In addition to the exemption that now exists for small businesses, who would be required to provide only unpaid sick days, businesses of all sizes would not have to provide paid sick leave for employees who work fewer than 8 hours a week.

Olszewski also said employers would be allowed to require documentation from employees who use earned sick time for more than two consecutive shifts to confirm that leave was used appropriately, and that shift-swapping can be used as an alternative to paid sick days, with mutual consent from the worker and the employer.

But some opponents of the legislation argue that this year’s version is still too broad and too vague in many places, including the area that defines a “family member,” or a person an employee could use sick leave to care for. Many who testified against the bill also said that the measure would hurt businesses struggling to stay afloat in a still-sluggish economy.

“Employers do care about the well being of their employees and want them to be healthy and productive,” said Deriece Pate Bennett, vice president for government affairs at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. “But the reality is that a vast majority of businesses already provide some form of leave for their employees, whether it’s flex leave, unpaid leave, annual leave or paid time off, and those [employers] who do not use it, cannot afford it.”
steven bradley February 22, 2014 at 09:58 PM
So my employees would lose their vacation days so we can meet your mandate that they receive sick days when they have the option of using the vacation days for sick time or take unpaid sick time. I'm not going to be able to just give more. You can try to screw with it as much as you want, but there is only so much I can do, but if I lose much more then there are going to be changes that will cost employees jobs and we will go back to manpower levels of about 2 years ago.
Remmy February 23, 2014 at 03:44 AM
Sadly government employees have never run a business, never saw a P&L statement, do not know how to make payroll, and they do not know the cost of doing business. The government's business is to take from us (taxes) and spend as much as they can in a fiscal year. We the people need to change the status quo, remove these idiots in Annapolis, and when they loose their job; see if they have skills that can be transferred to the private sector. I doubt that (the private sector does not spend like the government employee). They continue to mandate unreasonable situations on to the private sector, then the businesses will go out of business and oops - no new taxes for the government to spend. They are mandating themselves out of a job.
Linda March 25, 2014 at 08:10 AM
I totally agree with this. I've seen too many young people lately being fired or harassed by their employer because they or their children are sick. Including firing a person, even with a doctor's note. It is only responsible to be able to take care of yourself and your children when sick or when you have well visits. A lot of these young people also can't afford to take days off without pay and have to make difficult choices in order to keep their jobs. Unfortunately businesses take advantage of people and that just isn't right.
wileyb.1 March 27, 2014 at 01:22 PM
Corporations are creating policies that state BENEFITS ARE NOT AN ENTITLEMENT. No joke. Employees have paid time off on paper (sick leave, paid vacation, etc.), but good luck having requests approved. The more skilled and 'highly compensated' you are, the worse it is. A few years ago, I had a coworker request a sick day and make the mistake of mentioning that her kids had been sick—she had been taking care of them, hadn’t slept in 2 days, and was coming down with it herself. She was told her sick time was for her own personal illness only, not her kids’. The last time I changed jobs was after earning a third week of paid vacation that I could not have. So now I work part time—why be overworked and overtaxed just to be harassed out of what you earn? In Maryland-- I am not making this up-- labor officials prefer to keep corporations happy to ensure lots of jobs for people to choose from. If you don’t like what the company dishes out, find another place to work. ‘Seniority’ in benefits is becoming a thing of the past. Small businesses should not be subject to unreasonable benefit mandates, but large corporations? There’s nothing worse than a middle management moron abusing power to earn a few extra pennies in his/her bonus.


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