This time of year has most Maine residents dreaming of summer. Spring has been teasing us, a warm day here, a chirping bird there, but still winter won’t fully let us go. The constant change in temperature is wreaking havoc on the health of friends, neighbors, communities and workplaces.
Everyone seems to be coughing or has a runny nose. Some need to take time off from work to recover. If enough time is taken off from work during this sickly, dreary time of year, there may not be enough time later to take off and enjoy Maine’s beautiful, but much too brief, summer season.
Soon, our state Legislature will vote on a bill that would put an end to this struggle once and for all: LD 369, which would require paid sick days for Maine’s employees.
Currently, 198,000 workers lack the benefit of earned paid sick leave. LD 369 would allow Mainers to accrue one hour of earned paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. It will provide employees compensation for the hours missed to take care of themselves and their families so they can fully recover from sickness before returning to work.
Some business owners will look at this law and will fear skyrocketing costs that may impact their ability to stay in business. This is a misconception, with research demonstrating minimal cost to employers. In fact, the costs associated with taking unpaid sick time totals more than $115 million in lost wages per year. That is detrimental to Maine’s people and economy.
Imagine going out to eat in a restaurant where your server is wiping her nose on the back of her sleeve and stifling a cough as she takes your order. Would you go back to a place like this? Probably not. Neither would most people. Enacting paid sick days would have a positive public health effect on all of Maine’s people.
Paid sick leave is earned, so people have to work to get it. Employees are also far more likely to stay with a business that offers them this benefit. Employee turnover is a huge cost to businesses when advertising, training and recruiting for new employees are factored in.
Other states are ahead of Maine in putting paid sick leave policies into place. Maine should catch up and provide employees the right to health and opportunity.
Despite our long winters and mischievous springs, Maine is a wonderful place to live and work. This is in part due to the sense of community that comes from working hard, surviving the cold and horrendous driving conditions, and greeting those first warm days of spring together. In this community, we are taught to take care of each other. Paid sick days are just another way of doing so.
Erica Batson, Georgia Howland and Mary Moynihan are graduate students in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Maine in Orono.