AUGUSTA — A bill that would have required large Maine businesses to provide paid sick days to employees was scrapped Thursday.

Instead, Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, is proposing to prohibit all Maine employers from firing workers who take sick days, whether the days are paid or unpaid. The idea is an expansion of a provision in the original bill.

Mitchell told members of the Legislature’s Labor Committee that she will no longer pursue the original goal of the bill, which was to require Maine employers to provide paid sick time. “We recognize, in a tough economy, some things are not appropriate,” she said.

Mitchell conceived of the bill in the fall, when many Mainers were getting H1N1 flu. “An Act to Prevent the Spread of H1N1″ would have required all Maine businesses to provide at least some paid sick days to employees.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce put up strong opposition, arguing that companies could not afford an additional state requirement in a bad economy. Mitchell then scaled back the bill to apply only to businesses with more than 50 employees.

On Thursday, she presented the latest version, which would prohibit employers from firing employees for taking sick days. The bill would allow a worker to sue the employer if he or she is fired. The court could award damages, impose a fine and require the business to cover legal costs if the company violates the law.

“We’re not asking for paid sick leave, but asking that they not be retaliated against,” Mitchell said. “There is a problem. Please don’t deny that.”

Peter Gore, a lobbyist for the state chamber, disagreed. “I have not seen, or am aware of, an exceedingly large problem of people losing a job because of sick leave,” he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com