Gray: Personal and professional reasons to support paid sick days bill

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Angela Earle Gray, the director of human resources at Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls. She is a supporter of the Vermont Paid Sick Days Coalition.

When it comes to supporting the paid sick days bill in Vermont, my reasons are both professional and personal. This bill would require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. A full-time worker would earn 56 hours (seven days) of paid sick leave in a year. It could be used when the employee needs routine medical care, is ill or injured, or to care for an ill family member. In addition, it can be used if an employee needs to take steps for their safety as a result of sexual abuse, domestic violence or stalking.

Professionally, as the director of human resources at Chroma Technology, an employee-owned company that manufactures optical filters, I am in a position to see how illness impacts both our employees and our overall productivity.

On a personal level, my husband is a diabetic who has had multiple related minor surgeries and hospitalizations over the course of our nine years of marriage. In fact, while he is generally able to work full time with minimal absences, his choice of professions was made in part to assure he would have adequate paid time off when he did have medical issues. In 2005, he went back to school to study massage therapy and then worked as a licensed massage therapist for a year and a half. After a hospitalization to stabilize his sugar after having the flu, followed a few months later by an arm injury, he concluded that the lack of paid time off was too significant of a factor for him to continue with that work.

Hearing our friend’s story and recognizing how easily I could be in a similar position to his wife led me to start to speak out on the importance of paid sick leave, even before I learned of the pending bill.

 

Coincidentally, one of his friends is also diabetic and recently had to be hospitalized for close to a month with ketoacidosis. His wife, who didn’t have paid time off available, spent her time divided between work, the hospital, and caring for their two children. I can’t imagine how she was able to cope with that level of stress and I doubt she was able to be as effective at supporting her family or her job during that period.

I’ve been fortunate to always work for quality employers, who have provided sick time in excess of what the paid sick leave bill would require. Hearing our friend’s story and recognizing how easily I could be in a similar position to his wife led me to start to speak out on the importance of paid sick leave, even before I learned of the pending bill.

As I shared my story with employees and friends, others shared theirs with me as well. An employee who has a child with diabetes told me that she mentioned how grateful she was to have Chroma as an employer at every support group meeting she and her partner attended. Sadly, there were also stories of those who have been in positions where they’ve had to work when they were ill or injured.

From a humanitarian perspective, it feels wrong that people have to make that choice, but when it comes down to it, it isn’t good business either. I don’t want an employee working whose mind isn’t on the job because they are thinking about how they are going to balance it with caring for a sick family member. Distracted employees make mistakes, and it’s questionable if we gain more than we lose from their presence. Even more than that, I don’t want an ill employee on site, potentially infecting others.

The Vermont Paid Sick Days Bill would ensure that all Vermont employees have a bank of paid sick leave. While ideally, I’d like to see the number of hours required increased, it is an excellent start. As a human resources professional in Vermont, I’m pleased that it gives employers flexibility in regards to administration and should be easy to implement. As a Vermont taxpayer, I appreciate that there will be minimal associated administrative costs. As a caring community member, I will appreciate knowing that all working people in Vermont will have the option of focusing on their and their family’s health and well-being for at least a few days each year.

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  • Dave Bellini

    There’s many state correctional officers that work full time that get no sick days. That’s because the Governor is opposed to giving them benefits. The state of Vermont has increased its use of temporary employees so they can avoid giving employees sick days and other benefits.
    .
    The Governor won’t budge for full time, 40 hour per week, Academy trained, correctional officers, maybe a coalition of folks pushing this legislation can pressure him to do the right thing. His one true passion is to be reelected.

  • Jim Barrett

    I don’t see why the writer suggests only 56 hours of paid sick time a year, I’m sure there are people who need much more. As far as the costs to the business (big or small) is concerned heck they are located in Vermont and the state stiffs them whenever they can. Raising the cost of doing business is already a dis-incentive for any business located in Vermont especially with New Hampshire next door. Anyone can suggest reasons why a company should add additional overhead to their bottom line, the real issue is to lower costs so that these businesses don’t go bankrupt or leave the state.

  • Dan Luneau

    We have been in business for over 40 years and have always provide paid sick leave to our staff. We currently have 80 + staff member s who have 40 hours of sick leave per year non cumulative. At the end of each year any unused time is paid out to the individual at their rate of pay. We allow the benefit to be used at the discretion of the staff member with the only requirement being, they must notice us they they will not be in that particular day, half day, whatever. No reason is necessary or expected.
    All of the reasons why the writter puts forth are spot on. That said, I strongly disagree with 56 hours. It is our experience that 40 hours works very well in most cases. The folks that need more need to use their vacation benefit which we also allow on a very flexible basis. Sometimes an hour at a time if that is what is required.
    40 hours is manageable for us and provides our staff with what they need. Over 40 years experience with our plan speaks to the validity of that statement. 56 hours is a Cadillac plan and it is my opinion that small business cannot afford such a luxury.

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