PORTLAND (AP) – A recent study shows nearly half of private sector employees don’t have paid sick leave if they or a family member is sick. And there’s a new name for those who feel the crunch between work and needing to care for an ill child or elderly parent.

They’re “part of a sandwich generation,” said Sarah Standiford, director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, who backs the idea of requiring employers to provide paid sick leave as a way to help deal with the time squeeze.

Maine, like every other state, does not have a law requiring employers to provide workers with paid sick leave.

A surprising 47 percent of private-sector employees in the United States don’t get paid time off when they or a family member is sick, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“People just assume that everyone has it and many people assume that you have to provide sick leave to employees,” said Jodi Grant, director of work and family programs for the National Partnership.

Sen. Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, has floated the idea of Maine becoming the first state to require private-sector employers to provide paid sick days. But after hearing some opposition on her Labor Committee, Edmonds asked for a study of the issue by the state Department of Labor.

That report isn’t expected before year’s end and Edmonds hasn’t decided whether to propose a bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Edmonds said she was somewhat reassured to hear from business owners that most have an informal policy of paid sick leave. But Standiford and others who would like to see Maine take the lead on paid sick leave say informal agreements are not enough.

“It’s a benefit that many take for granted,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Standiford noted that Maine received a D-minus from the National Partnership in its report on sick leave laws and policies, “Get Well Soon: Americans Can’t Afford to Be Sick,” which was released last month.

In addition to its lack of any laws requiring employers to provide sick leave, Maine lost points for its fairly miserly state sick leave policies.

Even with 12 days of sick leave, two personal days and the ability to use sick days to care for family members, most states had better policies for their employees.

Private business owners are wary of any law that would make Maine an even more expensive place to do business.

“It could prove to be extremely expensive for some businesses, especially small businesses,” said David Clough, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “It’s another example where Maine tries to lead the nation in imposing new costs on businesses.”

Steve DiMillo, whose family owns a waterfront restaurant in Portland, said paid sick days are not the norm in the restaurant industry and he doesn’t offer them.

If he provided paid sick leave, he would have to increase his staff to be prepared to cover for those who call in sick, DiMillo said.

“If we offered sick pay, the staff would be taking it as vacation time. It would be abused,” he said. “I’m not normally pessimistic, but that’s just reality.”

AP-ES-07-24-04 1350EDT

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