Cape Elizabeth lawmaker pushes paid sick leave requirement

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A local lawmaker is introducing legislation to provide paid sick leave for all Maine residents. 

State Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, said the bill is at the revisor’s office, where it will be edited according to the style necessary for legislative protocol. It will be given a bill number and, later, a hearing.

It’s the intent of the bill that matters, Millett said. 

“Sick leave is a benefit white-collar professionals take for granted. But for thousands and thousands of Mainers, particularly low-income workers, a lack of access to sick leave means the decision to take time off from work to recover from illness or take care of a sick child or parent is a choice between the health of their families and their financial security,” Millett said in a prepared statement.

The bill would require companies with 50 or more employees to offer paid sick leave. In Maine, about 230,000 workers would qualify.

For businesses with fewer than 50 employees, workers could take unpaid time off for illness or to care for a sick family member. 

Minority Leader Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, supports the bill, as do Democratic Sens. Nate Libby of Lewiston, Shenna Bellows of Manchester, Benjamin Chipman of Portland and David Miramant of Camden, according to Millett.

But Peter Gore, vice president of government relations at the Maine Chamber of Commerce, said a law enacted in Maine in the early 2000s already allows for paid sick time for workers. Paid leave can be used for several purposes by an employee, including for personal or family illness, Gore said.

“The provision allows an employee who gets any kind of paid leave to use it to take care of themselves or a family member, up to 40 hours in a 12-month period, without retaliation,” Gore said.

A bill such as Millett’s would add more costs for employers because dedicated sick leave funds would need to be set aside, he said.

Millett said if workers come in sick because they’re afraid of losing pay or a job, productivity is reduced. One ill employee can make other employees sick.

Earned sick time is a feature in the bill, she noted: Employees would earn some sick time for every 30 hours worked.

She said business owners who support her bill include Dory Waxman of Old Port Wool & Textile, and American Roots, both in Portland. 

Depending on the season, Waxman said in a statement, both companies employ up to 15 people. Paid sick leave is offered to all employees.

“If our small businesses can do it, others can too,” she said. “Our policy helps us attract, train, and retain workers who give us 100 percent. We do it not only because of the morale and productivity benefits for our businesses, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or lconnell@theforecaster.net. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

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