Heather Mizeur: Paid sick days give economy shot in the arm

Op-Ed by Heather Mizeur originally published in The Gazette.

The 2013 flu season is already one for the record books — all 50 states report cases and 47 states report widespread outbreaks. Every corner of Maryland reports higher-than-usual onsets of influenza-like illnesses, while some areas run out of flu shots and hospitals brace for the worst after already treating tens of thousands of patients statewide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s top advice for flu sufferers: Stay home. But more than 40 percent of all workers do not have that option, as paid sick days are the exception as often as the rule.

As many as 800,000 Marylanders are forced to choose between their medical treatment and recovery time, or their ability to pay the rent and put food on their families’ tables. When they put their livelihood ahead of their health, they go to work sick, or send unhealthy children to school or day care. It’s burdensome and dangerous for these families, and it’s devastating for public health.

Earned sick and safe time standards offer a simple solution. With the support of health officials, workers’ groups, consumer organizations and a growing number of businesses that understand that paid sick days increase productivity, we are advancing legislation in Annapolis that ensures that every Maryland employee has access to paid time off when they get sick.

Under our proposal, Maryland workers accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours logged (up to a yearly limit of seven days). Our bill also enables victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to use this time to go to court, meet with legal counsel and seek other protections as necessary.

The economy suffers from employees who have to work while under the weather, and who spread disease — as much as $160 billion a year lost when productivity goes down and health care costs go up. This is twice as costly as absenteeism. It is no coincidence that jurisdictions that have passed paid sick-days legislation have seen their economies grow.

In one state and a number of cities across the country, legislators and voters have already exercised common sense, listening to public health organizations and standing up for paid sick-day standards. It’s time for Maryland to join them.

Paid sick leave is smart policy, and it’s popular. More than 80 percent of Marylanders recently polled agree: We should never have to choose between our health and our job.

Like the minimum wage and Federal Leave Act, paid sick leave is a worker’s right whose time has come. If employees have access to just seven paid sick days a year, our state economy benefits from increased productivity and reduced turnover.

We cannot stop the flu. We cannot keep from ever getting sick. But we can make sure more families receive access to the recovery time they need and deserve. In doing so, we chalk up a win for employment security, public health and our economy.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park is a co-sponsor of the Earned Sick and Safe Time Act.