AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Labor Committee voted 9-2 Monday against a bill that would have prohibited Maine businesses from firing employees for taking sick days.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, initially would have required businesses to provide paid sick days to employees.

In response to opposition from the business community, Mitchell presented an amendment that would have allowed workers to sue employers who fired them for taking sick days.

Workers who took five or fewer legitimate sick days in a 12-month period would have been protected from termination.

Without discussion, the committee voted quickly Monday to reject the bill.

“So much opposition was raised by the business community, it drowned out all the efforts to explain there really was a problem,” Mitchell said.

Just minutes before the vote, the Maine Restaurant Association distributed a letter to the committee that said the bill could be “devastating to Maine small businesses.”

“Please protect Maine employers from poorly drafted laws,” wrote Maine Restaurant Association President Dick Grotton.

Strong opposition also came from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business in Maine.

The bill was a priority this session for the Maine Women’s Lobby, which started promoting the measure last fall as one way to help workers who had the H1N1 virus.

Maine Women’s Lobby Executive Director Sarah Standiford said she found it “inconceivable” that the committee didn’t support even the stripped-down version of the bill. “I’m extremely disappointed the Labor Committee failed to stand up for working people,” she said.

The committee’s House chairman, Rep. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, said he favored an amended version of the bill that would have required all large Maine businesses to offer paid sick days. He said he did not like the section of the new proposal that would have imposed fines on businesses.

Because the bill did get some support — Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, and Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, voted for it — it will go to the full Legislature for consideration.

“I have a sense of responsibility to everyday people, to the everyday worker,” Blodgett said. “I vote for what I believe in and I believe in this.”

 

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