If you have paid sick time, chances are you take it for granted -- a bank of sick time just waiting for the day when you’re too ill to make it to work. Maybe you’re lucky and healthy enough not to have to dip into that pool. But if you do have to use some of your accrued sick time, at least your paycheck won’t suffer. And you won’t lose your job because you or your child got sick.
It’s certainly not a benefit that every worker has. In fact, those who need it the most seem to be the ones who don’t have it available to them.
Women are more likely than men to have jobs without earned sick days or paid time off of any kind, according to Voices For Vermont’s Children. Women are also more likely than their male counterparts to stay home with a sick child.
The Vermont Workers’ Center says more than 60,000 workers in Vermont have no paid sick days and more than 90,000 earn less than a livable wage -- most of those women.
Nationally, nearly 40 million employees -- about 40 percent of the private sector workforce -- have no right to any paid sick leave, according to a report issued in October by The Economic Policy Institute.
That’s a lot of people who can’t afford to stay home with a sick child, or when they have a fever.
On Tuesday famous Vermont businessmen Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame -- known for their values-driven approach to employee compensation packages -- scooped ice cream at the State House to show their support for a bill that could establish paid sick days for all workers.
The issue has come to a head this week, with members of the Vermont Workers Center protesting in Montpelier to "Raise Up Vermont" to guarantee paid sick days for everyone and raise the minimum wage. They are calling for the passage of House Bill 208 -- introduced in 2013 to establish paid sick days for all Vermont workers.
"At this point in time there really isn’t enough support to pass the bill," House Speaker Shap Smith told Vermont Public Radio. "And we don’t want to bring it to the floor if it’s going not pass."
Smith says it’s the type of legislation that needs to "percolate at the Statehouse for a number of years before becoming law."
According to the Vermont Workers Center, more than "40 organizations and dozens of businesses had begun pushing hard for paid sick days and most everyone in Vermont thinks its a great idea that is long overdue. In fact, in a statewide poll this fall over 72 percent of people in Vermont supported the legislation."
Despite initial support for the bill, it has languished in committee this year.
If signed into law, the bill would allow employees in Vermont to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of sick time per year. That time could be used for personal illness, care for a sick family member, seeking healthcare, or taking steps for safety as a result of sexual abuse, domestic violence or stalking.
James Haslam, lead organizer of the Vermont Worker’s Center, said in a recent blog post that the reason the bill hasn’t been successful to date is because business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Retailers Association, and Grocers Association "have made killing this bill their number one priority."
He wrote, "From a public health standpoint, the lack of paid sick days and families struggling on poverty wages has a tremendous impact on the overall have of our entire communities. A growing number of small businesses support having paid sick days and livable wages for the health of our economies and raising the standards for everyone."
Today a public hearing on raising the minimum wage is set to be held by VWC at the Statehouse. The group, which has not conceded that the bill won’t pass this session, aims for paid sick days and raising the minimum wage both to pass this session.
Opponents have said that workers will abuse the privilege, or that it will put an undue burden on businesses -- especially small businesses.
During a recent interview with VPR, Cathy Davis, vice president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, said she’s concerned the legislation will hurt Vermont’s small business community.
"You’re talking about the smaller employers that tend to be those that are struggling the most," Davis told VPR. "The cost to those employers to implement this is a serious concern especially when you’re talking about a lot of businesses that have very small margins."
The same argument was used against paid health insurance at work.
But then, as now, you should ask yourself, what is the right thing to do?
If a worker can take time off when he’s sick, he’s less likely to infect other employees, and less likely to require longer-term care. If a worker can take time off without penalty to care for her sick child, wouldn’t she be more likely to stay with the company that allows her to do that?
This bill deserves your support and the support of our legislators now.