Let’s pass the earned sick days bill

Vermont’s state motto is “Freedom and Unity” for a reason. While we revere our independence, we’re still a very community-oriented state and need to rely on each other. Vermont small businesses are no different. There is often a close relationship between business owners and employees. In the event of a personal emergency, such as an illness of an employee or their loved one, most small business owners accommodate and support their employees because they care and because it makes good business sense. That’s the Vermont way.

When employees can work with dignity — knowing that their employer respects their right to good health and wellbeing — employees’ loyalty and dedication to their job and their employer increases. The value of loyalty is worth more than the time an employee may miss due to illness. When an employer earns a reputation based on fairness and respect for workers, it becomes more attractive to job seekers. Employers who provide workers with livable wages, adequate time off, and who promote healthy lifestyles — through flexible schedules, on-site child care, benefits that include comprehensive insurance and earned sick time — are rewarded with dedicated and steadfast employees who will go above and beyond to get the job done.

Employers and employees are human beings and therefore susceptible to illness and other emergencies that demand our time and attention away from work. Everyone gets sick. It may be a child with a severe cold, an employee with a stomach bug, an ailing parent, or a victim of abuse struggling to survive and free themselves from the cycle of violence. We all need time off to get healthy, or to assist a family member to get healthy, and it doesn’t always fall neatly outside of regular work hours.

Vermonters are known for their resourcefulness and tenacity. I believe we can harness those qualities and apply them to paid sick days legislation. It is our resourcefulness that both allows and demands our flexibility to adapt to Vermont’s new economy of two-parent working households, working single parents, and adults caring for children and aging parents. The legislation is drafted so an employee earns sick leave based on an accrual system as they work at a job, much like those of us with sick leave now earn sick days. We, as Vermonters, owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities to equalize access to this basic right to health and dignity by passing this legislation to support all working Vermonters.

I disagree with those who believe we need to prioritize corporations’ and the business communities’ needs over the needs of working Vermonters. I believe we can find a balance between the two and this legislation is it. Yes, we need healthy businesses, but we also need healthy Vermonters. You can’t have a healthy business without a healthy workforce. Healthy employees are a benefit to employers and to our communities. Let’s pass the earned sick days bill in Vermont and support working Vermonters by giving them access to sick leave. It’s the right choice for Vermont.

This commentary is by Corey Decker, a member of the State Coordinating Committee of the Progressive Party. She lives in Fletcher. It first appeared on VTDigger on 2/24/14