Conn. Becomes 1st State Requiring Companies to Provide Employees Paid Sick Leave
By Stephen Signer
July 5, 2011
HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut has become the first state to require companies to provide employees with paid sick leave with legislation signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who announced his action Tuesday.
The measure requires businesses in the service industry with 50 or more employees to allow workers to accrue one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked. Backers estimate that between 200,000 and 300,000 workers will benefit. Opponents said the law will make Connecticut less competitive.
School bus driver Desiree Rosado appeared before lawmakers urging her support of the bill. Rosado, a mother of three from Groton, said she has no sick days, just two personal days a year that she can use when she’s sick. Regardless of whether the bill passed, Rosado said she might look for a new job that offers better benefits.
“The only reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because of the kids,” she said. “They’re getting older, and I think I’m going to be looking for other things because of the benefits.”
The legislation was years in the making. It narrowly passed the Senate on May 25 on an 18-17 vote and was approved June 4 by the House of Representatives on a 76-65 vote after more than 11 hours of debate.
It was the fourth year supporters tried to get the bill through. Previous efforts withered under veto threats by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican.
Malloy’s signature was expected, but the absence of a gathering to mark the first-in-the-nation law took its chief legislative backer by surprise. He signed the bill into law Friday but didn’t announce his action until Tuesday.
“I thought we were going to have a signing ceremony,” said Sen. Edith Prague, the Labor and Public Employees Committee co-chairwoman who championed the bill. “But he signed it and that’s the main thing.”
A Malloy spokesman said the governor might schedule a ceremonial bill signing, but right now is putting his stamp on bills as they reach his desk.
Malloy, a Democrat, made his support of paid sick leave a campaign issue last year, saying it was to safeguard public health. He persuaded wavering lawmakers to vote for it, Prague said.
“He was the key factor, there’s no doubt about it,” she said.
Backers have compared the legislation with workplace standards such as minimum wage, which was enacted in the 1930s, and occupational safety and health standards, which were adopted in the 1970s.
“When we raise the minimum wage, it raises wages for everyone,” said Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families, which lobbied for the legislation. “I think we’ll see paid sick time follow a similar trajectory over time.”
Joe Brennan, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, dismissed that argument as absurd. The new law will make Connecticut less competitive with other states that do not tell business how many sick days they must provide to workers, he said.
“It affects decisions over the long term. It affects where investment dollars go,” he said. “It’s going to have some form of chilling effect.”
Businesses also object to what they see as government micromanaging the benefit packages and policies they offer.
“Where does it stop?” Brennan said. “Mandate vacation time? Mandate how many times people can get a coffee break during the day?”
Mike Aitken, director of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management, said he can see employers “carving back” benefits they offer to meet the state’s minimum requirements.
Connecticut’s new law allows employees to receive paid time off to care for themselves or a sick child or spouse. A service worker also can use paid sick time for reasons related to family violence or sexual assault.
Aitken said some small companies may scale back their sick leave policy to avoid confusion over how time off is used. Most employers already are moving toward providing paid time off and “really don’t want to know what you’re using the leave for,” he said.
“A mandate takes away flexibility,” he said.
Prague, D-Columbia, said lawmakers tried to accommodate many issues that businesses complained about, such as not barring restaurant workers from switching shifts. Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said during the House debate that supporters of paid sick leave addressed the concerns of business and imposed limits such as exempting manufacturers and tax-exempt organizations.
Supporters said they were not retreating to gain more backing.
“By focusing the bill on service workers, we focused it on people who didn’t have it and needed it,” Green said.
Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families, called the Connecticut law a “historic first step that has provided a shot in the arm” for lobbying campaigns. Her group was pushing for paid sick leave legislation.
Bills have been introduced in 20 states and cities, she said. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are the only other jurisdictions mandating paid sick leave.
Green said he and others backing the mandate would like paid sick days to be available to all employees and the new law is a “good step in that direction.”
Prague was noncommittal about what she may do next year.
“I want to see how it works, how effective it is,” she said.