Credit: George Danby

Most Mainers I know work hard. They go to work every day, they pay their bills on time, and they make up the backbone of our economy. So when they or a family member fall ill, they’ve earned the time to get better or provide care. However, for too many Mainers, earning paid sick leave isn’t an option.

In this day and age, that is simply unconscionable. The lack of opportunity for paid sick leave is harmful to our families, small businesses, public health and economy. It’s high time we change that.

Without the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, many employees go to work sick, which is detrimental to everyone’s health and simply bad for business. Aside from the opportunity to spread severe illness and disease, going to work sick can really cost companies and adversely affect the economy.

A recent study estimates an annual loss of $160 billion to our economy. The reason for this is that people who go to work sick simply can’t produce the same level of work as if they were in good health. Going to work while sick means that it takes longer to get healthy, prolonging lower productivity levels. Allowing employees to earn paid sick time makes sense for businesses if they want to grow morale, company productivity and their bottom line.

Right now, Maine is competing with every other state to attract qualified workers and retain the workers who already live here. Fostering a supportive work environment would incentivize young people to relocate to Maine and call former Mainers home. Ten states have already led the charge in offering a variety of paid sick leave at the state level, including our neighbors in Vermont. In fact, four out of the six New England states have paid sick leave. If we don’t act soon, we are at risk of falling behind.

At the end of the day, every Mainer should be able to go to the doctor when they are sick, without the fear of losing their job. About 73 percent of children under the age of six live in households with all available parents in the workforce. When these children fall sick, their parents are in a bind. No parent should have to look their sick child in the eye, bite their lip and send them to school sick because they have no choice but to go to work.

Even for Maine seniors, the lack of earned paid sick leave can be a real challenge. About 178,000 Mainers provide care for a senior relative or loved one. If an aging parent falls on the ice and needs a ride to the hospital, no adult child should feel like they cannot be there.

As Mainers, looking out for each other is a fundamental part of who we are. The lack of earned paid sick leave in this state goes against everything we stand for. Over the course of this next year, I hope to change that.

I have filed legislation to ensure more working Mainers have the opportunity to earn paid sick leave.

If we truly value our workers, care about families and support our seniors, our laws ought to reflect that. Passing legislation to institute earned paid sick leave in the state of Maine will grow our workforce, improve the health of our families and communities, and strengthen our economy. It’s the right thing to do for our children, parents and seniors. And it’s what we owe our workers. They’ve earned it.

Sen. Rebecca Millett is serving her fourth term in the Maine Senate, representing South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough.