For several years now, the legislature has been debating a proposal to allow workers to earn paid sick days. Often, the debate circling around the issue has been primarily one of dollars and cents: does it cost more to businesses or put more money in the pockets of workers? How much does an outbreak of food-borne illness cost a restaurant? Or our healthcare system?
However, I ask that our lawmakers do not forget that, at its core, the issue of paid sick days is an issue of basic human dignity, not just the bottom line.
Years ago, I was working in the human resources department at a Connecticut hospital, when the boyfriend I was living with escalated his abusive behaviors. When he started threatening my daughter, I knew we had to leave. He caught me packing a bag and getting ready to move out, he raped and assaulted me and held me captive and naked for three days. When I was finally able to flee, I sought refuge in the Prudence Crandall Safe House.
When I escaped, I was in bad shape. I had been raped; I had bruises around my neck, and a ruptured ear drum. The next day, I called out sick to seek medical care and a restraining order. Because I didn’t have paid sick days, I lost income at a time in my life when I desperately needed financial resources. It got worse. By the end of the week, I had lost my job as a direct result of the days of work I missed.
Since then, I spent three years as a Shelter Advocate at the Prudence Crandall Center, and I learned that, tragically, my story isn’t unique. Women who are the victims of rape or assault are often plunged further into dire straits by losing pay or losing their jobs. That simply isn’t right.
The lack of paid sick days affects women most acutely. Women are more likely to work in jobs that lack paid sick days. At the same time, women remain the primary caregivers in most families.
Women who flee from domestic violence are often dealing with serious economic instability already. Losing wages or losing a job while dealing with the effects of being abused or seeking a restraining order only exacerbates their suffering. And of course, children suffer as well from the loss of financial stability that affects their mothers.
Having a few paid sick days wouldn’t have prevented the horror of my situation. But it would have helped me hold on to financial security during my recovery, and keeping my job would have allowed me to retain some measure of security and dignity as I rebuilt my life.
A day or two’s pay isn’t much. But in the worst moments of our lives, that can make all the difference in the world.
New research demonstrates that the impact of providing paid sick days on a company is minimal. But for people who need them most, the impact cannot be measured. Being sexually assaulted should not lead inevitably to financial ruin.
I urge the legislature to act quickly to pass the paid sick days bill and send it to Governor Malloy’s desk.
Paula Broderick is the Prevention Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Crisis Service of the YWCA New Britain.