As CEOs of five of Portland’s largest employers – including Michael Simonds, president and CEO of Unum US; Charlie Therrien, president of Northern Light Mercy Hospital; and Michael Bourque, president and CEO of The MEMIC Group, as well as the co-authors – we collectively represent over 14,000 jobs located in the city, and even more jobs in the Portland region. We are employers who take the health and well-being of our workforce very seriously and strongly support – and also provide – generous paid leave benefits to our employees.

These benefits are important for employees, who deserve time off when they are sick, and for employers like us, who must attract talent in an increasingly competitive environment.

We are compelled to write today because the Portland City Council is considering the adoption of a paid sick leave ordinance that would force our organizations to take away flexible paid time off benefits that are currently enjoyed by our employees in favor of more restrictive and mandatory “paid sick time.”

Although not intended, the various record-keeping and administrative requirements of the proposed ordinance would require that all employers in Portland designate five days – 40 hours – of time off to be used only as “sick time” for defined health-related purposes, thus decreasing the amount of paid leave time an employee will have available for vacations, holidays or other paid time off that is not directly related to a health issue. For those of us that shifted away from paid sick time and to the modern, employee-friendly standard of flexible PTO, it represents a giant step backward for our employees.

We support the intentions of this ordinance – to make sure that everyone working in Portland can afford to take time off from work to recover when they are sick. That is why we provide our employees with PTO to be used when they are sick – or for any reason they choose, without question. Our experience shows that the most successful paid leave programs offer time off not only for periods of sickness, but also for reasons other than those directly related to an employee’s health. This flexibility, choice and privacy are important to our employees.

There are other problems with the proposed ordinance, too. It would limit whether and how designated “sick days” could be rolled over from year to year. It would also interfere with some policies that allow employees to “cash out” PTO, as well as affecting whether time could be paid out when employees leave our organizations. In addition, the proposed ordinance too narrowly defines why and when an employee can qualify for sick leave, and also limits the reasons why employees can take leave.

As employers who operate in highly competitive industries, we are in regular contact with our employees and we have invested time and money creating approaches to time out of work that are responsive to our employees’ wishes.

At the same time, the Maine Legislature is considering a bill that would mandate paid sick leave, and it differs significantly from the proposed city ordinance. We do not believe that a policy this far reaching should be implemented at the municipal level, and we request that the council defer to the Legislature’s efforts to adopt a paid sick leave law.

If the council believes it must act, the ordinance should include a meaningful exemption for employers that already offer PTO programs that are more generous and flexible than what’s being proposed.

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