Editor’s note: This commentary is by Michele Kropp, co-owner of Gringo Jack’s Bar and Grill in Manchester.
As one of the partners of Gringo Jack’s, a local food business in southern Vermont, I‘m urging both employees and business owners to support Vermont’s pending sick pay legislation (H.208) allowing employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year that could be used to recover or get treatment for an illness; care for a sick family member; or take steps for an employee’s safety in an abusive situation.
Look, we’re not talking about highly compensated employees that can afford to stay home – those folks are usually on salary anyway. We’re talking about the growing number of people – the majority of people in VT – that barely scrape by on low wages and have to work every hour just to try to make ends meet. It’s hard to imagine for some, but one day lost could put a family behind the eight ball and begin a spiral until catching up seems impossible.
I’ve seen sick pay work in my own life when my husband, an executive chef, got sick and had to miss a week of work. Without that week’s salary, we would have gotten behind on everything and it would have taken months to catch up again. Thankfully, sick pay allowed for a faster recovery, lack of stress, and ensured company loyalty and gratitude on the part of my husband.
The best way to grow our local economy and support local small business is by making sure that all Vermonters have stable sources of income.
Sadly, when it’s a choice between food on the table for your children and going to work sick, there really is no choice. And this is bad news for business and bad news for public health. Productivity and quality suffer when employees are sick. Contagious employees create more absences and place a burden on the health care system.
A study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health showed that two sick flu days “reduces the spread of workplace influenza infections by nearly 40 percent.” Consider a parent that cannot afford to stay home with a sick child and so sends that child to school sick. Or consider yourself a patron in a restaurant with contagiously sick people preparing your food! As reported from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over 8 million people went to work while sick with the H1N1 virus in 2009, despite the advice that anyone sick with H1N1 should stay home. Without sick pay, people don’t have a choice.
From an employer perspective, I have to consider the high cost of turnover to my business. Sick time allows people to feel more settled and secure in their jobs and therefore more settled in their lives. They can lay down roots, have families and contribute to a local community. The best way to grow our local economy and support local small business is by making sure that all Vermonters have stable sources of income. And as for the cost, small business owners know that the cost of replacing an employee is much more expensive than paying for a modest amount of sick time and retaining good people.
You know what? While all those things matter to me, at the end of the day, it’s simply the right thing to do. None of us should have to choose between our health and our ability to support ourselves and our loved ones. Nobody should be forced to sacrifice their health, that of their loved ones, or of their co-workers because they can’t afford to take a day off work.
It may be commonplace for big national corporations to feel that their profits should be on the backs of the workers that, in my opinion, are ultimately the ones responsible for the success of any business. Vermont small businesses rely on their employees and do better when they take care of them. I sincerely hope that the Legislature and the administration will work together to pass this legislation. Vermonters can’t afford to go without anymore.
Just imagine the morale booster it will be to employees everywhere! Imagine fostering a workplace with people that are happy, healthy and appreciative of their job. Our strength should come from taking care of each other first, in order to create a safe, healthy and happy community. Let’s make a Vermont we can be proud of and be a beacon for the rest of the nation.