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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