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Many businesses offer paid sick leave to their employees, but not all businesses can afford to. However, a growing number of states and cities are making paid sick leave a required cost of doing business within their borders. Portland, Maine has become the latest city to do so, with a new ordinance receiving some fierce support and opposition before the city council.
Portland's mandatory sick leave ordinance would force employers to give their full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked (for a total of 48 hours per year). It could be used for physical or mental health, victims of sexual assault or stalking, and caring for a family member. Every absence that lasts three days or more would require a doctor's note, and unused time would roll over to the following year. Employers violating the ordinance could be forced to pay up to three times the amount of back wages owed in addition to a city fine of $100 per day.
Proponents of the ordinance argue that without sick leave, employees feel forced to go to work even if they're sick or injured. They also say that the lack of mandatory sick leave is especially hard on immigrants, low-income workers, and people who live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Eliza Townsend of the Maine Women's Lobby, which helped draft the proposal, argued that the ordinance would primarily affect women and minorities in retail, home care, and hospitality. She called the proposal "needed, reasonable, and socially just."
However, some business owners argued that while the aim of the ordinance is commendable, it would impose unaffordable costs on small businesses. They stressed the fact that profit margins are already thin for small businesses, and that it would force some to stop offering other popular benefits already in place, such as general paid time off.
Quincy Hentze of the Chamber of Commerce opposed the proposal, arguing it should be the result of a more thorough discussion that includes business owners. "Good policy comes when all parties sit down at the table, determine if there's a there's actually a problem that needs to be addressed, and have an honest conversation and work towards common goals."
Nearly 30 cities and nine states already have mandatory paid sick leave rules similar to Portland's proposal. Some municipalities, such as Austin, TX, have recently passed compulsory paid sick leave laws despite stiff opposition. The laws vary with regard to how many days of leave are required and how many employees a business must have in order to be subject to the law.
Whether you're an employer accused of violating employment laws, or an employee whose rights have been violated, speak with an attorney who knows the relevant laws and can advocate for you.
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