PROVIDENCE – On Tuesday, an earned sick leave bill was introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly intended to benefit nearly 170,000 workers, more than 40 percent of private sector workers in the state. The Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act would enable all employees to earn sick leave to care for their health and the health of their families. The bill also allows workers to earn time to use as “safe time” for those escaping domestic violence. Under the Act, workers would earn one hour of earned sick and safe time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours or seven days per year.
Senator Maryellen Goodwin and Representative Aaron Regunberg, the sponsors of the bill, were joined by workers, business owners, healthcare professionals, and survivors of domestic violence In the State House Bell Room to introduce the bill.
“The lack of paid sick time disproportionately affects lower income workers, who shouldn’t have to choose between taking a needed day off for a doctor’s visit and paying their bills,” said Senator Goodwin.
Representative Regunberg reinforced the message that earned sick days is an urgent priority for the state. “What we’re saying today is that this most basic security is a moral imperative. We should not go another year knowing so many of our neighbors have to go to work while ill, or have to send their children to school sick.”
Supporters of the bill anticipate far-reaching benefits for the state. Seven states, the District of Columbia, and several cities across the country have already benefited from passing sick leave legislation. Businesses in these cities and states have reported higher productivity and greater employee engagement with little to no increase in costs. Workers with earned sick leave are more likely to seek preventative care and treat illness early, curbing the spread of disease. If passed, Rhode Island will join the growing list of states, including neighboring Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont in passing this pro-family legislation.
Dr. Carla Martin, a practicing primary physician at Providence Community Health Centers, spoke on Tuesday to stress the connection between preventative care and access to earned sick days. “Without earned sick leave, many people don’t go to the doctor when they think they should because they simply can’t afford to lose that piece of their paycheck. Many patients see no choice but to delay their care. It’s very frustrating to know we could have helped someone if they’d been able to visit us sooner. And of course, more complicated health issues become a huge financial burden on my patients and the broader health care system.”
Many businesses in Rhode Island are already leading the way on sick days and they are finding the policy has returned positive results for employees and business. Kaitlyn Roberts, owner and founder of Easy Entertaining Catering in Providence, gives her employees, whether a full time staff member or an hourly employee, paid sick time off. “Hourly employees are just as important as salaried management. It is paramount to me that we treat them with the same care and dedication that we do to our long-term salaried employees. We have a very low attrition rate on hourlies and every business owner can relate to just how expensive turnover and training is.”
After listening to the personal testimonies presented in the Bell Room, the crowd of more than 100 supporters took the opportunity to speak about the importance of earned sick days with their representatives gathered in the House and Senate Chambers. At 4pm, the bill was introduced simultaneously to both chambers of the Assembly. Rhode Islanders filled the public galleries in the chambers to show their support for the measure.
Sandra Braz, an activities coordinator at Elmwood Adult Day in Providence spoke about the change she saw in her workplace when a policy of earned sick days was introduced. “My employer used to provide sick time based on preferential treatment. But the fact is, we all get sick. I’d see my colleagues call out for a few days when they or a family member got sick, but they would lose a piece of their paycheck. I joined with my fellow employees to create a union to call for the benefits we all deserve, including earned paid sick days. Now, I’m so glad we can all take care of ourselves and our families without risking our financial security.”
Earned sick leave has broad bipartisan support across the country. Polls show that more than 80 percent of voters nationally believe that workers should be able to earn sick time.
The Rhode Island Earned Sick Days Campaign is a coalition of groups including AARP, Center for Justice, Economic Progress Institute, Fuerza Laboral, Jobs with Justice, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Rhode Island Working Families, RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, RI SEIU State Council, SEIU 32BJ, District 615, Teamsters Local 251, UNITE HERE, Local 26, and Women’s Fund of RI united to ensure passage of a statewide measure to allow workers to care for themselves and their families without fear of lost income or job loss.