STATE HOUSE – With final votes in both chambers today, Rhode
Island lawmakers approved legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip
Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg to give earn paid sick time to more than
100,000 employees in the state as well as protecting all workers from
retaliation for taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one.
“After tremendous effort by countless workers, advocates and
colleagues, today Rhode Island declared that every working person should be
able to take care of themselves and their loved ones,” said Rep. Aaron
Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “This is a big deal. When parents send their
kids to school sick, when people skip necessary care because they can't afford
a day off, when workers are let go because of medical emergencies, these are
matters of basic human dignity. I am proud that with this legislation, families
and working people across our state can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that
the awful choice between one’s health and one’s paycheck can become a thing of
Said Senator Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), “This bill
protects all Rhode Islanders in terms of public health and providing for their
families. It means working people — especially those in lower-wage positions
that lack benefits — will finally have the ability to take care of themselves
or their families when they are sick, instead of coming to work, prolonging
their illness and spreading it to coworkers and the public. For too many Rhode
Islanders, staying home is just not an option because they can’t afford to go
unpaid, and might even risk losing their jobs. Everyone gets sick from time to
time, and staying home to rest and recover, or taking time to get medical help,
means better health and, ultimately, better productivity for businesses too.”
Under the bill, starting in July 2018, workers will be able
to take up to three earned sick days, phasing up to four days in 2019, and
finally five days starting on Jan. 1, 2020. Workers at companies with 17 or
fewer employees would be allowed the same amount of sick time each year without
adverse consequences for the employee, but it would not have to be paid.
The bill also allows workers to earn time to use as “safe
time” for those escaping domestic violence.
Employers violating the statute would be subject to the same
penalties applicable to minimum wage violations: fines ranging from $100 to
$500 for every day they have been in violation. The measure would take effect
July 1, 2018.
The bill would mean 90 percent of Rhode Island workers would
now have access to paid sick days. In addition, another 44,000 workers would be
able to take unpaid sick days.
Currently, over 40 percent of Rhode Island’s private sector
workers do not have access to a single day of sick time. These workers may
forego medical care without access to time off and risk financial instability
when illness causes them to miss work. Workers in Rhode Island also lack
protection from discipline or dismissal for short-term absences due to illness
or domestic violence.
Seven states, the District of Columbia, and several cities
across the country have already benefited from passing sick leave legislation.
Businesses in these cities and states have reported higher productivity and
greater employee engagement with little to no increase in costs. Workers with
earned sick leave are more likely to seek preventative care and treat illness
early, curbing the spread of disease. The bill would add Rhode Island to the
growing list of states, including neighboring Connecticut, Massachusetts, and
Vermont in passing this pro-family legislation.
The bill is supported by the Rhode Island Earned Sick Days
Campaign, a coalition that includes AARP, Center for Justice, Economic Progress
Institute, Fuerza Laboral, Jobs with Justice, Planned Parenthood of Southern
New England, Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Rhode
Island Working Families, RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, RI SEIU State
Council, SEIU 32BJ-District 615,District 1199 SEIU New England, Teamsters Local
251, UNITE HERE-Local 26, United Nurses and Allied Professionals, Women’s Fund
of RI, and the Capital Good Fund.
“This is a huge victory for working people. Everyone gets
sick and everyone should be able to take a few days off to care for themselves
or their families. With the passage of this bill, Rhode Island has taken a big
step forward in supporting the economic stability of working families and
public health across the community,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, state
director for Rhode Island Working Families, which led the large coalition that
worked to pass the bill.
“I am so happy to see this bill’s passage,” said Maggie
Kain, a Narragansett resident. “I’ve worked in the food service industry for
years without access to earned sick days. I’ve watched my coworkers come into
work sick because they can’t afford to miss a day to get rest and care. People
shouldn’t be treated like that. We deserve to be valued as people and as
employees of a business. As a state, we should also be very aware that without
this legislation, we’re forcing sick employees into contact with the public. In
food service, that’s especially dangerous.”
A poll commissioned by Rhode Island Working Families
this spring showed that 82.2 percent of likely Rhode Island voters support
earned sick days and want to see a statewide policy enacted.
“Passing earned sick time helps many older people I work
with who depend on their pay to live. Now when we get sick, my coworkers
and I will no longer have to choose between missing a day’s pay or coming to
work sick,” said Sandy
Annicelli, a school bus aide at Metro West First Student in Cranston and a
Johnston resident. Annicelli appeared in a
video illustrating the bind that workers face when they or a family
member get sick.
“The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is
thrilled that the sick and safe days legislation will be enacted. Not only will
this legislation provide economic security for families trying to make ends
meet, it will provide invaluable earned paid time off to seek services for
Rhode Islanders experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault. This is of
critical importance to survivors,” said Deborah DeBare, executive director of
the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“Most workers have two options, go to work sick or lose
pay,” said Casey Sardo, a health care worker from Pawtucket. “How was this
acceptable in health care? Passing earned sick days is not just good for
workers but patients too.”