Md. legislators tackle paid sick leave


Jeffrey Rubin counts himself among the fortunate who have benefited from paid and family sick leave. As a doctor at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, he was afforded those benefits at a time when he was caring for his sick father.

Rubin, 64, of Potomac, used that time to find his father a well-qualified home health care aide while serving as his primary caregiver.

“As a physician, I see this issue differently than it is often framed,” Rubin said. “I don’t see it as a conflict between workers and employers. I see it as a practical-sense issue.”

Now, Rubin wants to make sure others like him throughout Maryland are granted similar assistance.
He is one of many advocates who have pushed the legislature to pass a paid sick leave bill, saying ill workers “who are not well should be able to stay home without fearing of losing their wages or jobs.”

Rubin is a strong supporter of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, a bill Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D-District 28) and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-District 46) are sponsoring in the Senate and House of Delegates, respectively.

Last year, the House of Delegates passed a similar paid sick leave bill, but it failed to muster enough votes in the Senate on the final day of the legislature’s 90-day session.

Democrats who are sponsoring legislation for the fourth straight year on the issue were joined at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 9 by cabinet members of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has introduced his own version of sick leave requisite.

Under the Democratic-sponsored Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, companies with at least 15 workers would be required to give them one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The legislation would apply only to any employee who works at least eight hours per week.

Companies with 14 employees or fewer would be given unpaid earned and sick safe leave.

Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, stressed the importance of paid sick leave for low-wage employees who have children.

“This time of the year, there is hardly a day that goes by when we don’t get a call from one of the schools that we have a sick child,” Middleton said. “If you look across the state, especially among those low-income employees, many of them don’t have the luxury of being able to pick up their kids when they are sick. When they do, some days they don’t get paid, which is money they depend on greatly. Other times, they might get fired.”

According to Working Matters, a coalition of more than 150 groups that support the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, the bill would cover about 512,000 Marylanders who currently don’t receive paid sick leave benefits.

Hogan’s bill, the Commonsense Paid Leave Act, would call for employers with 50 workers at a single location to offer up to five days of paid sick leave. The proposal would only apply to those who work at least 30 hours per week, covering about 272,000 workers who do not currently receive any paid sick leave benefits.

For companies with fewer than 50 employees, a tax break of a little more than $20,000 would be offered, costing the state an estimated $63 million, according to Hogan’s aides.

Chris Shank, chief legislative officer for Hogan, said the governor’s proposed legislation is “flexible, consistent and fair.”

“We feel there should be one statewide standard for these benefits in terms of making certain that Maryland’s law applies to all 24 counties equally,” Shank said. “We are also of the opinion that we shouldn’t micromanage our small business job creators and dictate legislatively what should be more left to employee handbooks.”

As committee members discussed both bills, the hearing was packed with dozens of advocates and detractors weighing in with their testimony.

Opponents of both bill proposals contend that increasing benefits would handcuff businesses, leading them to increase costs or slash expenses and hinder hiring or expanding.

Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said before the hearing that businesses that can afford to offer the benefits under both bills already do.

“The idea that legislators can determine what benefits an employer can offer employee is the sole reason of the [NFIB’s] opposition to the bills,” said O’Halloran, whose organizations has more than 4,000 members in the state. “Legislators don’t sign the front of employee paychecks. … Because employers run their business on a day-to-day basis, they know a heck of a lot better what they can and cannot afford to offer.”

The proposals have received increased attention since Montgomery County passed its own paid sick leave bill in 2015. That law went into effect on Oct. 1.

Jews United for Justice Montgomery County community organizer Laura Wallace said she is working closely with Working Matters.

Wallace, a vocal critic of Hogan’s bill, said she is not interested in exploring any alternatives. She also called it a “very watered down bill compared to last year’s.”

“It’s not enough to say a little bit is good enough,” Wallace said of Hogan’s bill. “We need to do the right thing and pass the right policy and implement the right law, and [JUFJ] will fight for that.”

Justin Silberman is a staff reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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