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My Turn: Earned Sick Days Make Sense for Vermont

October 10, 2013

Vermont may be the healthiest state, but Vermonters do get sick. And, common sense says when we do, we may need to stay home and take care of ourselves, to get better faster and get back to work.

Common sense also says healthy workers are good for business. They are more energetic, efficient and happy, less likely to have accidents and more customer friendly. After all, we would rather have service with a smile than a sniffle or a sneeze.

If common sense isn’t enough, economists and studies say that when sick workers are given time to get better there is less unemployment, improved productivity and a stronger economy.

But, common sense aside, Vermont has no laws or rules giving workers paid sick time and half of Vermont’s private employers don’t offer any. So, for many Vermonters, getting sick means going to work anyway, bringing sniffles, sneezes, aches and pains with them, because staying home means losing pay or maybe even their job.

For many working families losing a few days’ pay because of illness means not buying groceries or not paying an electric bill, so we go to work sick, maybe getting sicker and possibly spreading illness to co-workers and customers, rather than losing income or a job. This can be a particularly difficult bind for women, who contribute needed family income or head single-parent households, but also have primary responsibility for caring for sick children.

Recognizing the need to keep families, workers and the economy healthy, many Vermont employers, workers, health professionals and families are working together to support giving workers the ability to take a small number of paid sick days off from work. Under the proposal, workers could “earn” up to seven sick days a year to recover from an illness, care for a family member or get preventative or therapeutic care.

It’s good for the health of families and the economy and levels the field for employers. Many Vermont businesses already provide paid time off, so there will be no new costs at all. Those who don’t currently provide sick time may see a slight increase (1 percent-2.5 percent) in payroll costs.

For employers concerned about the proposal it is important to know that where earned sick day laws exist, businesses have come to appreciate the benefits and experience shows increased costs offset by economic and workplace improvements.

Connecticut for example, has seen an increase in jobs in tourism, education and health services, the sectors most impacted by their paid sick days law.

In San Francisco, the main lobbyist against their law switched positions, telling Businessweek the paid sick day policy is “the best policy for the least cost.” After all, “Do you want your server coughing over your food?”

In another reversal, two thirds of San Francisco’s employers, once opposed, now support the law. And the city is ranked as one of the best in the world to do business.

A study of the proposed Vermont law by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found a net gain for businesses, showing that any new costs for some businesses would be more than offset by reduced turnover and a healthier, more efficient, productive workforce. And, keeping people healthier, the law would even save $5 million in emergency room visits.

No surprise, in a recent poll over 70 percent of Vermonters support the idea.

Vermont employers know how valuable long term, committed workers are to growing a business and they know healthier workers work better. We know a strong, healthy workforce is the foundation of a strong local economy, spending less on health care and more at local businesses. And, Vermonters pride ourselves on our willingness to reach out and care for our neighbors, in time of need. So when we get sick, getting a little time to get better, without the worry of losing income or our job is good for all of us. For Vermonters it’s just common sense.