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Kunin: Paid Sick Leave

Sally wakes up at 7 am crying. She has a 102 fever and a sore throat. Her Mom is supposed to be at work at 8:30. There is no earned sick day policy in Mom’s workplace. If she misses a day of work, she misses a day’s pay and may not be able to pay that month’s fuel bill.

Nearly 60,000 Vermonters don’t have access to any paid time off for any reason. 90,000 don’t have time off they can use for unscheduled illnesses. A bill pending in the Vermont legislature would begin to address the dilemma that so many parents face when they’re forced to choose between their children’s health and a paycheck. It’s not only about children, employees themselves get sick and so do the elderly. H.187 is aptly renamed the Healthy Workplaces Bill. The logic of this legislation is simple: when sick food service workers handle our food we can get sick, when sick children go to school, other children get sick. Enabling them to stay home without losing a day’s pay keeps us all healthier and saves taxpayers health care costs. A study has determined that Vermont would save $5 million in Emergency Room costs alone if employees could take time off to see a doctor, go to a pharmacy, or recover at home.

Rarely has a piece of legislation been the subject of so much discussion and compromise - before it was drafted. I participated in a meeting of business leaders to hear their concerns last October. Supporters of the legislation did what advocates seldom do. They listened to the opponents and incorporated many of their suggestions. The result is a practical and sensible bill that has the official support of some 100 businesses and is gaining momentum in the legislature.

This is what compromise produced:

Employees will be able to earn up to three days per year for the first two years. After two years, it will be five days. A 500 hour waiting period is established for new hires before they’re eligible for the benefit, assuring that the law only applies to long term employees. For every 40 hours worked, one hour of time off will be earned until the limit is reached.

The law is necessary because in most households today, both mother and father are not at home; they’re at work. The result will be healthier workplaces and healthier families. It will help Vermonters to fulfill their most important responsibilities - to be good employees and good parents.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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