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Citing risks to public health and economic growth, Maryland lawmakers are proposing a mandatory standard by which workers can earn paid sick days.

“To me, this is very common-sense legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) said at a news conference last week. “[People are] working, they’re putting in the hours, they should get paid sick leave.”

Those who aren’t able to take paid time off risk spreading illness, whether it’s a restaurant worker with the flu or an office colleague who can’t stay home, Garagiola said. The measure is also good for business because it boosts worker morale and reduces employee turnover, Garagiola said.

The proposal, led in the House by Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. (D-Baltimore), allows all full-time employees to earn an hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, or up to seven sick days per year. Part-time workers would earn fewer days, depending on how often they work.

Working Matters, a coalition of more than 60 organizations supporting the bill, estimates that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders — many in the food service or home health-care industries — don’t earn paid sick days.

A 2011 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that only about 60 percent of Maryland’s nearly 2 million private-sector employees received paid sick days.

“Three-and-a-half days is a month of groceries for many Maryland families,” Olszewksi said at the news conference. “We’re literally talking about people eating or working.”

But the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which was still reviewing the bill, is concerned that such a mandate on employers would disproportionately harm small businesses.

“You cannot have a one-size-fits-all [proposal],” said Deriece Pate Bennett, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs. Larger businesses might be able to shoulder the costs, but smaller ones likely would not, she said.

Still, some business owners, like Andy Shallal, who owns the Busboys and Poets restaurant chain, which has locations in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are backing the proposal.

The restaurant has offered sick leave to its employees for more than three years and is preparing to open two new restaurants, Shallal said.

“We’re living proof that the sky is not going to fall,” he said. Only about 10 percent of his workforce has used the policy, and the additional expense has amounted to less than 1 percent of his payroll costs, he said.

“I think this is something that’s been long overdue,” Shallal said.

dleaderman@gazette.net