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Md. Sick Leave Forces Women To Choose Between Privacy And Safety

Delegate Kathy Szeliga

The Baltimore Sun

“Simply put, HB1 puts the balance of power on the side of the boss; the governor’s bill leaves the choice up to the employee. For anyone claiming to stand up for working women, this should be a no-brainer.”

The Baltimore Sun
Delegate Kathy Szeliga
December 21, 2017

“As a member of the Maryland General Assembly’s Women’s Caucus, I am committed to upholding the pledge to the women of Maryland adopted more than two decades ago, which promises to work to eliminate violence against women in our state. It was in this spirit that I joined with a dozen of my women’s caucus colleagues to express our concerns regarding the very real, albeit unintended, consequences of HB1, or the ‘Maryland Healthy Working Families Act,’ which was passed during the 2017 session of the Maryland General Assembly and subsequently vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“This legislation narrowly defines specific, restrictive reasons for which workers can use the paid sick leave benefits and explicitly allows an employer to ask an employee to ‘provide verification that the leave was used appropriately.’ On its face, this may seem like a reasonable requirement: provide a doctor’s note if you’re out sick. However, in the case of domestic violence or sexual assault, this becomes incredibly intrusive. It is hard to determine what level of information one has to provide that would not be a complete invasion of privacy.

“Quite simply, no woman should have to disclose to their employer that they are taking leave because of domestic violence or sexual assault. Such a requirement further victimizes these women by giving them no choice but to disclose deeply personal and private information. It just goes too far.

“The Sun’s editorial board raised a red flag last May, noting that HB1 ‘includes notice requirements that could force a worker to tell an employer more about his or her health than is necessary or warranted.’

“Governor Hogan recognized this major flaw in HB1 and addressed it head-on in his compromise proposal, which he released last month. His bill provides the same amount of paid sick leave as HB1 and specifies that ‘an employer may not require disclosure of details relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual contact or stalking’ or personal health information in order to use paid leave.

“When my colleagues and I expressed these concerns in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, I expected the legislators leading the charge for this bill — many of whom are male — to stick to their partisan guns regardless of what’s right. What I didn’t expect was groups that supposedly exist to promote women’s interests to join them.

“It was with great disappointment that I read the op-ed published in The Sun on Dec. 14 by Michelle Daugherty Siri of The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, along with other advocates (‘Md. legislature should override veto to pass sick and safe leave’). In the piece, she brushes aside our concerns as ‘unfounded’ and claims that HB1 would ‘empower those women by giving them the option of telling their employers and securing their safety without risking their financial security.’

“Ms. Siri’s argument appears to be that it’s acceptable to require a woman to disclose private information to her employer because some women may want to do so? That is a moot argument, because the governor’s proposal doesn’t prevent anyone from choosing to share information with their employer. What it does do, however, is ensure that no one will be forced to.

“Ms. Siri even concedes that, ‘Some [women] may choose not to take earned leave because they do not want to tell their employer they are victims.’

“Simply put, HB1 puts the balance of power on the side of the boss; the governor’s bill leaves the choice up to the employee. For anyone claiming to stand up for working women, this should be a no-brainer.

“In light of the national conversation that we are seeing play out in the headlines every day, now more than ever, it is time for so-called ‘women’s groups’ to put partisanship aside and shine a light on policies that hurt women — regardless of which side of the aisle they come from.

“Allowing HB1 to become law would take us backward in Maryland’s efforts to support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Rather than reconsidering this flawed legislation in January, I urge my fellow legislators to come together to pass Governor Hogan’s compromise bill. In addition to protecting small businesses and jobs, the governor’s Paid Leave Compromise Act of 2018 does not micromanage the reasons for which a worker can use their leave, eliminating the potential for employers to require intrusive information.

“The governor’s bill provides paid leave for hardworking Marylanders with no questions asked. That should be something we can all get behind.”