Twenty-one years ago, a worker could be fired, demoted, or otherwise disciplined for taking unpaid time off work to recover from the birth of a child, to care for a seriously ill loved one, or to recover from an illness. Thanks to nine years of efforts by policymakers and activists, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has protected over 35 million workers since 1993, ensuring they were able to keep their jobs and health insurance while they weathered a health crisis or cared for a new baby.
Employers also benefit: workers who are able to take time away when they need it are more likely to return to their jobs. As a result, employers save between 17 and 31 percent of employees’ annual earnings when they don’t have to replace experienced workers. Employers also benefit from higher worker productivity and morale. By all accounts, the last 21 years of the FMLA represent incredible progress for workers.
As communities, businesses, government and health care organizations celebrate and promote National Women’s Health Week, I can’t help but think of the women who struggle daily to care for themselves without access to paid sick leave.
The first step women are urged to take as a part of Women’s Health Week is to “Visit a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings.”
Sounds simple, right? If we value women and their health, then naturally we expect them to take the time each year to visit a cadre of doctor’s for their checkups. Unfortunately, this modest goal is unattainable for countless American women.
Legislation filed this week would create a standard to assure that workers in our state could earn up to seven days of paid sick time each year.
The Earned Sick and Safe Time Act, cross-filed by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) and Delegate John A. Olszewski, Jr. (D-Baltimore County), would enable workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work.
More than 700,000 people in Maryland cannot earn paid sick days from their employers. Many of these employees are low-wage workers who already face significant financial hurdles and worry that taking a day off work could mean they are unable to feed their children or pay their rent.