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Guest View: Earned sick time is a pro-woman policy

April 27, 2012
By Margot Dorfman
Margot Dorfman is chief executive officer of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve met many women who left corporate America to start their own businesses, usually because of the lack of family-friendly work environments and fair pay and promotion. When women started their own firms, they wanted to change the workplace culture and the way business is done to support the competing responsibilities of work and family.

As business owners, women want to offer good benefits, but they are often at an unfair disadvantage without a minimum standard in place. When they do decide to offer fair wages and benefits, they run the risk of being undercut by the competition. The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce strongly and enthusiastically endorses the earned sick time legislation because it supports small businesses, benefits workers and encourages an equitable workplace for women across the commonwealth.

As a businesswoman and a native of Massachusetts, I support the earned sick time legislation that is currently being debated at the Statehouse because it’s a common-sense proposal that provides numerous benefits to women, families and businesses. Growing up in Wayland and later living on the North Shore, I have been a seasonal worker and I’ve held various other jobs in Massachusetts. At all of my full-time jobs, I was lucky enough to have paid sick time. I appreciate this benefit so much more knowing that a vast number of people aren’t as fortunate.

We need to fight for the over 1 million workers in Massachusetts who cannot risk taking a single day off to care for themselves or their families. For low-income workers, the lack of earned sick days is particularly problematic: 67 percent of the lowest-wage workers do not have access to sick days in Massachusetts. The majority of low-wage workers are women, making earned sick days a critical step in creating fair and equitable workplaces.

Without earned sick days, many women face the impossible choice of sending a sick child to school or coming to work sick for fear of losing income or their job. Betsy and J.P. Powel, who own Salt Marsh Pottery Studio in Dartmouth, employ seven women, many of whom are mothers and have been faced with this tough choice. For Betsy, the decision is simple: a sick child means her employee takes a day off. This kind of flexibility creates loyalty and reliability from employees who know that many other mothers have jobs without this immeasurable benefit.

Having a boss like Betsy Powel is rare, especially in corporate America, where it’s extremely challenging for women to balance careers and families. Even as women have an increased presence in the workforce, employers have failed to update procedures to reflect changes.

Workers fighting for this benefit are not asking for a handout. This bill allows employees to earn the sick time based on the hours they work. Many of our members are small businesses, and we are particularly encouraged by the ways in which the bill takes into account the needs of small businesses. It offers a tiered approach to the amount of time than can be earned depending on the size of the business, contains protections for businesses and allows the flexibility needed to make the law easy to administer. The bill also addresses the needs of seasonal employers and allows them the option of providing paid or unpaid job-protected sick time.

The earned sick time legislation will build a stronger economy and protect the families of Massachusetts.

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