As winter descended on Maryland, so did the ever-dreaded cold and flu season. The fevers, chills, and stomach bugs are miserable enough, but many of our neighbors will face far worse consequences for their illnesses. For the more than 700,000 Marylanders who are unable to earn paid sick days, abiding by a doctor's orders to stay home and rest can mean forgoing groceries or rent. The choice is even more heart-wrenching for working parents who must decide between sending a sick child to school or day care, versus staying home and missing out on necessary income.
Nationally, four in 10 private sector employees are unable to earn paid sick days, and the bottom quarter of earners suffer the most: 75 percent of them don't get paid sick leave. Our most vulnerable workers in Maryland and beyond who are often already living paycheck to paycheck stand the greatest risk of losing their jobs simply because they fall ill.
Not surprisingly, workers without access to paid sick days are more likely to go to work sick and more likely to delay needed medical care, leading to prolonged illness and costly emergency room visits. When food service workers go to work sick, they put Maryland's public health at risk. Several studies have found that work attendance by infected employees is a public health issue due to contagion. According to the Centers for Disease Control, infected food-service workers cause 70 percent of all norovirus outbreaks. (A sick employee at a Boston Chipotle restaurant is thought to be responsible for a norovirus outbreak there that infected at least 140 people.) And during the H1N1 flu pandemic's peak months, an estimated 7 million Americans were infected by co-workers who attended work while sick. At the same time, a recent study found that flu rates declined considerably in U.S. cities where paid sick leave laws were recently implemented.
Opponents of earned sick leave laws resort to fear-mongering, with dire predictions about the impact on business for a modest earned sick and safe leave policy. However, these concerns are not borne out by the facts. The experiences of cities and states around the country that have already implemented sick leave laws demonstrate that business climate has been healthy, costs have been minimal and job growth has been strong in municipalities with earned sick leave laws.
In Seattle, a 2014 University of Washington study conducted after the city implemented an earned sick leave law found that businesses and jobs grew faster in Seattle than in the nearby cities of Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma. In addition, 94 percent of businesses did not decrease wages, and less than 1 percent reported relocating outside of Seattle because of earned sick leave.
In Connecticut, claims by opponents of that state's earned sick leave legislation similarly didn't come to pass. A 2014 study by the Center for Economic Policy Research, the Murphy Institute and the City University of New York found that almost two-thirds of businesses in Connecticut reported little or no increases in costs, and nearly half reported no change at all. Two years after the legislation passed, more than three-quarters of surveyed Connecticut employers expressed support for the law.
In San Francisco, employment grew at twice the rate of five surrounding counties lacking such policies in the five years after the city passed its earned sick leave law. And in Washington, D.C., a 2013 report by the city auditor found that the city's sick leave law "neither discouraged business owners from locating in the District nor encouraged business owners to move their businesses from the District."
Polling conducted for Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization, found majority support among small businesses for policies that would allow employees to earn paid sick days to use when they or an immediate family member is sick. A February 2015 telephone poll, conducted for the organization by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, found that 54 percent of businesses with five or fewer employees and 52 percent of businesses with 10 or fewer employees say they would support such a law.
Here at home, the need for earned sick days is backed by strong bipartisan support. In an independent poll conducted in October by the University of Maryland and the Washington Post, 83 percent of respondents, including 91 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, expressed support for allowing workers to earn a limited number of annual paid sick days.
As Maryland lawmakers deliberate earned sick days legislation in coming weeks, these policy proposals should be evaluated based upon their merits, with discussions informed by facts, by sound measures of public opinion and by the real-world experiences of employers and workers where such policies are already in place. Those experiences are overwhelmingly positive.
Del. Luke Clippinger represents District 46 in Baltimore City. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.