No one enjoys getting sick. Illness can inflict more than just physical discomfort; for working families, it also entails a financial burden. Common sicknesses, whether a nasty cold or a 24-hour stomach bug, make one’s daily routine more difficult, and they often necessitate taking a day or so off from work and/or school to fully recuperate.
While some employers allow their workers to take limited days off from work to deal with illness, a staggering 750,000 Maryland residents receive no paid sick days from their employers. To stay home from work while recovering from illness, these Marylanders must sacrifice part of their paycheck. These punishing sick leave policies disproportionately affect low-income families; 50% of Maryland workers with incomes less than $35,000 a year have zero access to paid sick days.
Denying families access to paid sick days also creates a public health hazard. If parents are unable to take off work to care for a sick child due to financial constraints, they have no choice but to send their contagious child to school. Not only does the child perform poorly in the classroom while sick, but he also spreads his germs to other children, who in turn perpetuate the cycle of illness at home.
The same goes for sick adults who cannot justify losing a day of much-needed income to stay home from work. Sick employees are less productive at work, and their contagiousness creates a domino effect among other employees who share the same work space.
The Healthy Working Families Act (HB1/SB230) would have provided a simple, effective solution for working families dealing with illness. Under the legislation enthusiastically passed by both houses of the Maryland General Assembly this spring, Marylanders who work full-time at an organization with at least 15 employees would earn one paid hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work, giving them up to 5 full days of paid sick leave per year. The bill includes similar provisions for part-time employees (working at least 12 hours a week) relative to their weekly hours. These paid hours of sick leave could be used to recuperate from illness, go to a doctor's appointment, or care for a sick family member.
Yet Governor Larry Hogan vetoed this critical piece of legislation, prioritizing his special business interests over the needs of hardworking Maryland families. To add insult to injury, Governor Hogan paid lip service to paid sick leave by commissioning a Committee on Paid Leave Policy via Executive Order 01.01.2017.08. The Committee, which purports to weigh the merits of paid sick leave policy, has been shrouded in secrecy since its creation. Composed solely of insider members of Governor Hogan’s administration, the Committee has yet to hold a single public meeting. Furthermore, the only way for the public to voice their opinions to the Committee is through a paltry web portal, which requires visitors to disclose their place of employment—a clear disincentive for the vulnerable workers to share their concerns about paid sick leave policy.
The Committee has effectively insulated itself from public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports paid sick leave policy in Maryland. According to a 2015 poll conducted by the University of Maryland and The Washington Post, over 80% of Maryland voters believe that workers should be allowed to accumulate paid sick leave. This is not a partisan issue; the majority of both Maryland Democrats and Republicans (91% and 64%, respectively) support paid sick leave.
Governor Hogan claims that paid sick days are too much of a burden to impose upon Maryland businesses, but he clearly has no problem leaving that burden to hardworking families. It is time for Governor Hogan to listen to Marylanders and examine paid sick leave with the attention it deserves.