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Sick time bill would protect jobs, workers

Shelly Runyon

Nearly 1 million workers are without access to paid sick days in Massachusetts. When they or their children fall ill, they are often left with a tough choice: risk their jobs or continue on to work, potentially spreading disease. But that may soon change.

The Earned Paid Sick Time Act was voted out of the Labor and Workforce Development committee last week and was recommended for an official vote from the state legislature. This act would provide a minimum of seven paid sick days to all Massachusetts workers.

The act has broad support from Gov. Deval Patrick and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Joanne Goldstein, to more than 80 groups throughout the Commonwealth. Recent polling data collected from Anzalone Liszt Research shows that 74 percent of all likely 2012 voters support the legislation.

“Right now, nearly one-third of the workforce in Massachusetts does not have one single guaranteed sick day,” said Elizabeth Toulan, coordinator of the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition (MPLC). “This bill is specifically designed to guarantee that low-wage earners, whom we know are often disproportionately black and Latino, have access to the same benefits as higher wage earners.”

The purpose of Toulan’s group, the MPLC, is to advocate for seven paid sick days for workers statewide. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kay Khan, (D-Newton), and Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), also seeks seven paid sick days.

According to the research presented in Senate Bill S00930 and House bill H01398, almost half of all private sector workers do not earn paid sick days. Further, it states that “(more than) three quarters of the poorest families (76 percent) lack any regular paid sick leave.” Additionally, more than 20 percent of workers who do have paid sick days are unable to use it to care for family members.

If the bill passes, it will provide additional sick days for any worker who does not have 20 days paid leave, and the days will be accrued at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven paid sick days.

The accrual will start with the date of hire, and will not reset at the start of the calendar year, but will be determined based on anniversary date. If an employee is out on sick leave for more than three days, then the employer may request “written notice of illness or condition resulting in absence from work.”

The new bill, said MPLC in a statement, includes amendments that provide an exemption for “mom and pop” shops while ensuring job protection for their employees who need to take sick time. Other amendments provide for shift and hour swapping, and exempting seasonal employers.

This is not the first paid sick leave bill to reach a state legislature in the United States. In June, Connecticut passed the first statewide paid sick days law. Additionally, Seattle and Philadelphia city councils both recently passed paid sick days laws in the fall.

“No person should lose their pay – or worse, their job – to take time off to care for themselves or an ill family member,” said Toulan. “With the earned paid sick time bill, workers do not have to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.”

If the bill passes, the act will take effect after 90 days, unless the employee’s benefits are a part of a collective bargaining agreement. If so, the date of passage will take effect after termination of the agreement.