Moulton: Paid sick days good for Vermont’s economy

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Melinda Moulton, the CEO of Main Street Landing in Burlington.

No one should fear losing a job or wages because of an illness.

Main Street Landing has had a paid leave policy for 30 years and our employees know that if they need the time to heal or care for a loved one, they can do so without loss of wages.

That’s why I’m supporting H.208, a new bill under consideration at the Vermont Legislature, that guarantees workers paid time off if they are sick or need to care for a close loved one with an illness. Right now, there is no law or regulation that supplies workers with this necessary benefit.

Paid leave is not just an idea that benefits the worker – it also makes for a stronger workplace and improves the Vermont economy. Sick or distracted employees are not productive and risk infecting other workers with contagious illnesses. From a business perspective, when employees stay home to heal, the costs for health care, workplace contagion, and turnover are reduced and productivity is enhanced.

I know I’m not alone in providing paid leave benefits to employees. Businesses of all sizes across Vermont offer a similar benefit

Over the years, the cost to Main Street Landing to provide this benefit has been very small compared to the benefit of overall better health and wellbeing, loyalty and general happiness of our employees. If and when they are sick or need to care for a loved one, they have the confidence and peace of mind to know that they can do that and not lose income.

I know I’m not alone in providing paid leave benefits to employees. Businesses of all sizes across Vermont offer a similar benefit. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a statewide organization dedicated to sustainable business practice, approved a new public policy last year endorsing guaranteed paid leave and is lobbying for the legislation at the Statehouse.

“In the absence of paid leave, many families face the possibility of severe debt, bankruptcy or the need for public assistance programs when facing a personal or family health crisis when paid leave policies are not in place,” VBSR’s new policy says.

I could not agree more. But the playing field right now is inconsistent and unfair – while many Vermont employers do offer paid leave, about half of private employers in the state do not. That’s a lot of workers who are one illness away from tragedy.

The bill at the Statehouse is simple: Everyone working in Vermont gets paid leave. As an employee, you earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a “maximum” of 56 hours or seven sick days per year. The bill also allows an employee to take care of a sick loved one and obtain diagnostic, routine, preventative or therapeutic health care.

The state of Connecticut and four cities – San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Philadelphia – have passed paid sick days legislation. Many businesses in these communities were worried when the legislation passed that it would make it more difficult to run
their businesses – but the data has shown no slowed job growth or reduced profitability. After several years, businesses agree: This is good for our employees, good for public health and good for the economy.

For a very small investment by Vermont businesses, all Vermonters could benefit.

The paid leave bill coming before the Legislature will insure that public health is improved, hourly workers have much greater economic stability, employee turnover is reduced, and most importantly, businesses will enjoy an increase in employee loyalty and satisfaction. I hope you will join me in supporting this bill.

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Jamal Kheiry
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. Moulton, It’s fantastic that your business provides such great benefits to employees, and that so many other businesses also choose to do so. But your advocacy of a bill that would force others to do as you are doing ignores the possibility that some businesses have good reasons for running things the way they do. Maybe they can provide EITHER that benefit OR some other benefit that they can afford and their employees appreciate, but not both. Maybe their businesses run very close to breakeven and they can’t afford to provide that benefit at all. Regardless of the reasons,… Read more »

Steven Farnham
3 years 2 months ago

What – are you suggesting that we treat employees with dignity and respect? You must be a communist.

Jamal Kheiry
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Farnham, To be specific, the author isn’t “suggesting” that we treat employees with dignity and respect. She is, in fact, advocating that her idea of such treatment should be forced on all other employers in the state, whether or not it fits their or their employees’ needs. She makes a strong case for the benefits she advocates by noting how it has made her business stronger. That’s valid. But then she presumes to know that it would do the same for all other workplaces, and based on that flawed premise, that all other workplaces should be forced into it.… Read more »

Steven Farnham
3 years 2 months ago

If requiring employees to work while ill isn’t abuse, I don’t know what is, and I should know – I’ve worked with a fever so intense I could barely stand up – had to. No work – no pay. Miss too many days – no job. And I got that fever from another employee who came to work sick as dog for the same reason. Hey – why not spread the joy around? It’s so inconvenient isn’t it? If it weren’t for those pesky laws, men could abuse women with impunity. Now some damn fool wants to make it illegal… Read more »

Jamal Kheiry
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Farnham,

I’ve had to work sick more times than I can count. By your standard, I am therefore insane and my arguments can be safely ignored.

Steven Farnham
3 years 2 months ago

My use of the word “insane” was in reference to your argument, not you personally. The statement alleging your personal insanity, just for the record, belongs in the bin labelled “You said it – I didn’t.” I’d like to respond to your statement “I’ve had to work sick more times than I can count.” “Working sick” needs more detailed definition. Let us call it “working sick under duress,” where “duress” suggests loss of pay or benefits, retaliation, punishment, or bad marks on your performance review for failing to show up regardless of health. For my argument, working sick sans duress,… Read more »

Jamal Kheiry
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Farnham, I appreciate your clarification. I don’t disagree with your points regarding working sick under duress. In my case, it has always been my choice to work sick, in order to meet deadlines or other expectations, and therefore not analogous to the situation you describe. It is indeed unreasonable, in my opinion, for employers or supervisors to require employees to work when they are sick or need to take care of a loved one. However, I don’t believe the government should force employers to “do the right thing,” let alone define the details of how to execute that right… Read more »

Steven Farnham
3 years 1 month ago

Likewise, I appreciate your concession, limited though it is. When you write, “It is indeed unreasonable, in my opinion, for employers or supervisors to require employees to work when they are sick or need to take care of a loved one,” it appears that you are missing some of the problem. Employers do not necessarily “…REQUIRE employees to work when they are sick or need to take care of a loved one.” It isn’t necessarily clearly written. Or if it is – it isn’t necessarily consistently enforced. What is more likely is you can take time off, but you wont… Read more »

Jim Barrett
3 years 2 months ago

Another person who wants to dictate their desires to everyone else……..!

Dave Bellini
3 years 2 months ago

The Vermont Department of Corrections continues to operate prisons with temporary employees and they have no sick days or health insurance. Many of these “temps” work 40 hours a week for months or years. 49 other states operate their prisons without “temps.” The state of Vermont isn’t willing to give sick days to all its full time employees. No Governor, nor any legislator, has ever been willing to tackle this. The state spends millions training correctional officers only to see most of them quit. Naturally, who wants to work a dangerous, thankless, job without sick days, health insurance or vacation.… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Employers who value their workforce can quite easily protect their budget and the health of their employees.

By investing in wired networking, healthy lighting and reducing unnecessary exposure to electromagnetic fields, not only will people have stronger immune systems to fend off the inevitable seasonal malady, but they will be much less likely to call in sick when they really just need a break from an unhealthy environment.

Sick building syndrome is no longer just about mold and formaldehyde.

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