Sen. Harding: CT Dems’ tone-deaf proposal will hurt employers, employees

March 26, 2024

Bad for business or good policy?

By Alison Cross
Hartford Courant

Bids to expand paid sick leave to all workers in the state will advance to the House and Senate after passing out of the Connecticut General Assembly Labor Committee.

Vilified by small business backers and celebrated by labor advocates, three separate proposals to extend the benefits in Connecticut’s sick day law to small business employees passed 8-4 in votes that fell on party lines.

Under statutes passed in 2011, businesses with 50 or more employees must provide paid sick time to their workers. The bills advanced Thursday would close this gap, mandating that all employers, aside from those participants in certain multiemployer health plans, offer each employee at least 40 hours of annual paid sick leave.

According to estimates shared by Connecticut Senate Democrats, the expansion could benefit as many as 1.6 million people in the state.

The issue of paid sick days quickly emerged as a priority for Democratic leaders in the state.

At the start of the session, Gov. Ned Lamont introduced Senate Bill 12. Democrats in both chambers later introduced their own proposals with Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 5005.

After the committee moved forward with all three bills, Senate Republican Leader Stephen Harding and Sen. Rob Sampson, a ranking member of the committee, said the affirmative votes from Democrats “added to Connecticut’s reputation of being a bad state for business.”

“This tone-deaf proposal will hurt employers and employees by eliminating their ability to negotiate employment terms themselves,” Harding and Sampson said in a joint statement. “It will make businesses reticent to choose Connecticut as a place to operate. It will raise costs for consumers. It also reveals how out of touch majority Democrats are. Big government telling mom and pop shops what they must do and forcing them to comply is their priority.”

Ranking Member Rep. Steve Weir agreed, calling the proposed mandates “extremely disturbing.”

“As a small business owner, I know firsthand how difficult these added costs and regulations make owning or operating a company here,” Weir said in a statement Tuesday. “I have serious concerns about the financial impact mandating paid sick days will place onto some of our smallest employers. Despite its support by the governor and Labor Committee majority, these policies will only further move Connecticut behind the rest of the country when it comes to economic growth and business friendliness.”

Proponents of the legislation argued that guaranteed sick days could help the economy by attracting and retaining young workers who find such policies attractive.

In the days leading up to the vote, Lamont met with committee leaders to urge lawmakers to approve his proposal.

“If there’s anything we have learned from the recent outbreak of a viral pandemic, it’s that illness can spread quickly, and workers are sometimes left in a situation in which they have to choose between going to the workplace sick and risk spreading that illness to their coworkers and clients, or sacrificing a day’s wage and be unable to support themselves and their families,” Lamont said in a statement Tuesday.

If the expansion passes, Connecticut would join Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., on the list of U.S. states and territories that mandate employers with one or more workers to offer paid sick leave.

At a press conference Tuesday, Committee Chair Sen. Julie Kushner said that the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act applies to serious illnesses and does not cover mild sickness that may cause an employee to be out of work for a day or two. She said paid sick days will help workers fill that hole when they or a loved one gets sick.
“It’s bad public policy to put workers in a situation where they have to choose between paying their rent and staying home with a sick child,” Kushner said. “We’re going to fix that this session, I feel confident.”

Kushner said that she believes small businesses will remain resilient despite the new mandate.

“Every time we enact progressive legislation that helps workers, there’s always a concern that it will be damaging to small businesses,” Kushner said. “We’ve heard that in the minimum wage discussions that we had in the past, and what we see is that small businesses can and do survive and thrive when we improve the conditions for workers. And I think that will be true for paid sick days.”

According to Kushner, Lamont’s proposal and the Senate priority bill are nearly identical.

Kushner said that under both bills, employers would have to comply with the legislation by Oct. 1. Each employee will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. New employees may tap into the accrued sick time after 100 calendar days on the job. Unused sick time can roll over into the following year; however, Kushner said employers may limit an employee’s available sick time to 40 paid hours annually.

Kushner explained that H.B. 5005 would implement a staggered, three-year rollout of the requirements. Employers with 25 or more employees must offer sick time by Jan. 1, 2025. Employers with 11 or more employees must comply by Jan. 1, 2026. The phase-in for all remaining employers would take effect on Jan. 1, 2027.

Through the House proposal, employees become automatically entitled to 40 paid hours of sick time at the start of each calendar year. New employees must work for a total of 180 days to qualify for the full 40 hours.