Hartford Courant – Amanda Falcone

4/23/2010

For the third year in a row, lawmakers are debating whether to require businesses to give their employees paid sick leave.

After much debate, the appropriations committee passed a bill Friday that would require businesses with 50 or more employees to give workers paid sick leave. The vote sends the measure to the Senate, which passed a similar bill in 2008. That bill was never voted on by the House.

In 2009, the House passed a paid sick leave bill, but the Senate did not vote on it.

Currently, businesses are not required to provide paid or unpaid sick leave. Beginning in 2011, the controversial bill would require businesses with 50 or more employees to let employees accrue up to 40 hours, or five days, worth of paid sick time, and it would prevent employers from discriminating against a worker who requests or uses the time.

The bill does not apply to temporary workers or certain state college or university employees, and it would give an employer who does not follow the provisions outlined in the bill a $600 civil penalty per violation. The bill also allows complaints to be filed with the state Department of Labor if an employer violates any of the provisions.

Those who are in favor of this year’s bill say paid sick days would help prevent the spread of disease in offices and help productivity.

A report recently released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., says that a paid sick leave bill would save Connecticut businesses $73 million each year, because the cost of implementing paid sick time would be outstripped by a large reduction in costs associated with employee turnover.

Many people must go to work sick because they need the day’s pay, said Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. Requiring paid sick leave is the right thing to do, she added.

The state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women reports that currently about 553,000 Connecticut workers do not receive paid sick days. Of those workers, fewer than half would get paid sick time if the proposed bill gets signed into law, the commission says.

Opponents, however, say businesses would be hurt by the unfunded mandate during tough economic times, and they say the bill would drive businesses away from a state that is already known for being “business unfriendly.”

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association has been lobbying hard against the bill.

“This is a business killer,” said Sen. Robert Kane, R-Watertown, of the proposal.

The bill’s opponents did try to amend the bill by deleting most of its requirements at Friday’s meeting, but the amendment failed. Another effort was made to modify the bill to only apply to service workers — an amendment Prague said the Democrats had hoped to call on the Senate floor next week. That amendment also failed because the bill’s supporters did not want the bill to get tied up in a more complex legislative process. Republicans were trying to kill the bill, Prague said.

The appropriations committee is not the first committee to the pass the paid sick leave bill. The labor and public employees committee, chaired by Prague, passed the bill in March.

Original Article