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The business benefits of earned sick time

June 9, 2012

Guest Column By Dean Cycon and John Abrams

When we started our Massachusetts-based businesses, South Mountain Company in 1975 and Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee in 1993, we knew that the success of our business depended on the skills, health and happiness of our employees. We knew that employee loyalty translates to high-quality service and customer loyalty, and we knew we wanted our businesses to contribute to vibrant, healthy communities.

That’s why we provide our employees with earned sick time and why we are urging the state Legislature to pass the earned sick time legislation, which would allow nearly 1 million workers in Massachusetts to earn sick time and ensure that no worker is forced to work sick, or to risk their job to take care of themselves or a loved one.

Offering earned sick time is a smart business decision, and the investment has paid us back tenfold in the form of a healthier, more committed and more efficient workforce. When an employee is sick, we want them to stay home, take care of themselves, get better and come back quickly, healthy and ready to work. The policy has built loyalty among our staff and decreased turnover, so we have the advantage of having employees who know our businesses inside and out.

That way, when we need to take a sick day, we can trust that our businesses are in good hands. Small businesses have nothing to fear and everything to gain from earned sick time — it’s good for employees and good for the bottom line. An independent study recently confirmed what we both believe: the benefits of earned sick time greatly outweigh the costs. The report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds a net benefit of $74 million annually in Massachusetts with substantial advantages for employees, employers, and public health. Businesses that provide earned sick time will drastically reduce employee turnover and increase productivity, among other benefits. IWPR calculates an annual net value of $26 million for Massachusetts employers.

This is a pro-business policy. Small businesses certainly have different needs than large businesses and chains, and the earned sick time bill reflects these realities: The bill has special protections for “mom and pop” shops while ensuring job protection for their employees when they fall ill. Seasonal employers have the option of providing earned sick time, and companies that already provide time off to their employees consistent with the provisions in the bill can continue with their current policies.

Workers who lack sick time are most often low-wage earners who are already stretching their budgets and living paycheck to paycheck. Employees who rely on every extra dollar would not take the day off unless they truly need it. In fact, the IWPR analysis of the National Health Interview Survey found that workers who have this benefit take on average 2.5 sick days off every year.

Fostering loyalty with the employees we rely on to serve our customers is essential to the success of our businesses. More important than the bottom line, it’s a matter of fundamental fairness and it’s in all of our interests to make sure that earned sick time is available to all Massachusetts workers.

Earned sick time is the next step in the tradition that embraced the 40-hour workweek and put an end to child labor. Allowing workers to earn a limited amount of paid sick time is both pro-business and pro-employee, a win-win initiative that’s needed to help increase job security for families, protect our health and safety, and rebuild an economy that values hard work. We urge the Legislature to pass “An Act Establishing Earned Paid Sick Time.”

Dean Cycon owns Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee in Orange, and John Abrams owns South Mountain Co. in West Tisbury.