Maryland lawmakers propose mandatory paid sick leave

Maryland lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it mandatory for the state’s employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. The bill, if passed, would make Maryland the second state in the country to implement such a policy.

Advocates of the Maryland Paid Sick and Safe Leave Act say the bill’s passage would be a win for working families and a benefit to public health, while critics say the rule would be an unfair burden for small businesses.

There are approximately 767,200 workers in Maryland that do not currently earn paid sick leave, according the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which conducted a study to assess the implications of enacting mandatory paid sick leave in the state.

“For a lot of people, what happens is they’re forced to make these impossible choices between going to work or taking care of themselves or their families,” said Del. John Olszewski Jr. (D-Baltimore County), who is sponsoring the bill.

The legislation, Olszewski said, aims to alleviate that problem. It stipulates that employees would earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

In addition to helping families, supporters of the bill say it would cut down on a problem known as “presenteeism,” which means that workers are showing up to their jobs while sick.

Experts say there are various problems associated with presenteeism. Workers are sometimes less productive when they are sick, and they risk spreading contagious diseases to their colleagues.

This issue is especially critical for food service or child-care workers, who could also pass illnesses to customers.

A coalition of more than 80 nonprofits, advocacy groups and businesses have signed on to a campaign called Working Matters that backs the paid sick leave initiative. A poll conducted in December by Hart Research Associates found that a large majority of Marylanders — 82 percent — are in favor of the proposed policy.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and some other small-business advocates do not support mandatory paid sick leave.

Kathy Snyder, the chamber’s chief executive, said she believes advocates are “well-intentioned,” but that the bill would be too much of a strain for small businesses.

“Unlike the government ... businesses can’t print money,” Snyder said. “You have to have increased sales in order to provide wages and benefits to your employees.”

Olszewski said he is receptive to these concerns and is “contemplating additional substantive amendments” to the bill that would address the needs of the small-business community.

The IWPR study found that the law would likely cost employers $192 million per year, as they’d be forced to shell out more money to their workers. But, the study also projected that the policy would save employers $195 million, mostly because of reduced turnover and increased productivity.

Mandatory paid sick leave laws are rare in the United States. Connecticut became the first state to adopt such a policy in January 2012. At least three other jurisdictions — the District, San Francisco and Seattle — require paid sick leave.

Last fall, advocates and researchers put pressure on the District to audit its policy to determine how successful it has been at protecting local workers. At that time, the D.C. auditor’s office said a review would take place in fiscal year 2013, which began in October. An audit has not yet taken place.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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