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9/19/2017 Sick time bill passes General Assembly
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.

The Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act (2017-H 5413Baa, 2017-S 0290B) will now go to the governor.

“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 the past.”

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.”

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923