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Lawmakers try again on paid sick leave

Rachel Baye

With proposals from both parties in Annapolis, many state lawmakers are predicting that this is the year the state requires businesses to offer employees paid sick leave.

On one side, Democratic legislators have proposed various versions of a sick leave requirement for five consecutive years. For the first time this year, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan promises to introduce his own version of the concept.

The latest proposal from Democrats would require businesses with at least 15 employees to offer an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. The bill primarily aims to help low- and moderate-income earners, the majority of whom don’t earn sick leave, said Baltimore Del. Luke Clippinger, the lead sponsor of the bill in the House of Delegates.

"If they or their kids get sick, they have no way of being able to take care of themselves or their children without having to choose between them and their job," he said.

Smaller businesses would have to offer workers unpaid leave — effectively a guarantee that they can take a day off without losing their jobs.

Seasonal workers would begin earning leave on their first day of work, but they would not be able to use it until their 91st day of work, Clippinger said. As long as they return to the business at least once every nine months, they would continue to accrue leave and use the leave they earned before.

That could potentially help people like Doreen Hicks, of Dundalk. The 46 year old said she gets leave at her job at BJ’s Wholesale Club, where she works between 20 and 37.5 hours a week. But she doesn’t get leave from her second job, cleaning Orioles Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens play.

"When you’re trying to get rid of debt that you have, you don’t think about, oh, I’m still going to get paid for some of that," Hicks said. "You consider it a complete loss because you’re going to be behind in your bills."

Last year, Clippinger’s bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Hogan’s version of paid sick leave is not yet public, but the governor offered a preview in December. Under his measure, businesses with at least 50 employees would have to offer at least 40 hours of paid leave a year. Smaller businesses would not have to offer leave, but those that do would be eligible for a tax break.

The bill would not require leave for seasonal workers who work fewer than 120 days a year.

Another difference between the two measures is that Hogan’s bill would cancel existing local paid leave laws, such as the one that took effect a few months ago in Montgomery County. The Democrat-backed legislation would not.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said Hogan’s proposal is a business-friendly compromise.

"We want paid sick leave for everybody," he said. "The question is how do we create the best environment for people — struggling, working people — to survive? And we have to be mindful that passing on every little thing that we want makes it harder for those businesses to survive, and makes our area, our state less attractive for entrepreneurs to open up the next business."

But some Maryland business owners don’t see sick leave that way. Clifton Broumand is the owner and self-proclaimed "big cheese" of Man and Machine, a Landover-based business that manufactures waterproof computer keyboards and mice. He said he has offered his employees paid leave for at least 20 years.

"That’s not being totally altruistic," Broumand said. "I find that if people are concerned with what's going on with their children or their wives or their husbands that they're not fully focused on what needs to be done for the business."

Sick leave policies in a range of U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Portland, New York, Philadelphia, Jersey City and Washington, D.C., have been shown to have little impact on wages and employment, according to Nicolas Ziebarth, a professor at Cornell University who studies the issue.

However, "we find significant decreases in influenza-like disease rate, which means common colds, of around 5 percent," he said.

In a county with 100,000 people, that could mean roughly 10 fewer infections a week, he said.

But Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute where he also studies sick leave, warned against relying on the numerous studies on sick leave policies. The policies are still too new for there to be much data, he said.

It’s also important to remember that most businesses already offer some sort of paid leave, Tanner said.

"The governor’s proposal, I think, ... is largely symbolic," he said. "The number of companies that have 50 fulltime employees and are not offering paid sick leave is pretty miniscule."

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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