May 25, 2018
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Two Versions Of Paid Sick Leave

Patrick Armstrong
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February 8, 2017

Our elected officials in Annapolis are debating legislation to extend access to paid sick leave for Maryland workers. There are two versions of legislation under consideration. Both attempt to address the issue, but they are far apart on the details. The Democrats’ plan would cover the vast majority of Maryland workers, even those who work two or three jobs. Governor Hogan's proposal covers fewer Marylanders and falls short of covering those most in need.

Advancing legislation on the issue is worth the time and effort to get it done. It’s time to level the playing field. Now is not the time to leave thousands of Maryland workers behind.

The Democrats’ proposal would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide seven days of paid sick leave each year. This would allow Maryland workers access to necessary time off. Paid sick leave would apply to anyone working at least eight hours per week and would accumulate based on hours worked. To ease the burden on small businesses, those who employ fewer than 15 employees would provide unpaid days off, which would allow the individual time to recover without fear of losing his or her job.

Governor Hogan's plan leaves many workers sick on the job, as it only covers those who work for larger companies, those who employ more than 50 people in the state. It is also restricted to those working at least 30 hours a week, leaving many retirees behind. Republicans in the legislature want to restrict paid leave even more, and some oppose it altogether.

Many low-income workers are employed by mid-size companies, not big Wall Street behemoths. In addition, many low-income workers cannot find full-time work and are forced to work two or even three part-time jobs. These workers deserve the same sick leave as everyone else, and they are in the worst position of all without it. The loss of income can break a person's finances, causing a rippling effect as bills go unpaid and debts mount.

The folks we are talking about are working hard to support themselves and their families. All people get sick. Illness is not an upper-class problem; it affects all people. Access to sick leave is vital for basic human health, and it ought to be available to all.

Often, we hear Republicans cry “lazy” when describing the working class. A favorite talking point is to tell folks to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Denying paid sick leave is like cutting the straps right off the boots! We have to allow folks the ability to survive while facing illness.

When you go into a restaurant or get a pizza delivered, you don't want the people who work there to be sick. But when someone is faced with losing part of their paycheck, falling behind on rent, or not paying the bills, they will most often choose to go to work when sick. For your own health, you should support the Democrats’ legislation.

We are not blind to the concerns of small businesses; we recognize there will be some strain as they adjust to the "new norm." Small businesses benefit from the proposed changes as well, and a few already provide sick leave. Healthier employees are more productive. Studies have shown that we recover from illness faster when we rest than when we exert ourselves. A strong workforce is good for business.

The legislature and Governor Hogan must recognize the unfair situation workers find themselves in today. The Democrats’ expanded legislation is critical to making Maryland a fair place to work. Let's finally proclaim that we’re open for healthy business!

Patrick Armstrong serves on the board of the 33rd District Democratic Club.

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