Today the State Senate of Connecticut passed a bill 18-17 that will mandate that paid sick leave for what has been traditionally low paying wage earners. It is also expected to pass in the House of Representatives and the eventual signing into law by the Governor.
The bill passed with provisions that exempt certain organizations, as the bill will apply primarily to service oriented companies employing over 50 employees.
The paid sick leave is accumulated, one hour for every 40 worked, and the accrued time could not be used until at least 680 hours have been worked. At 680 hours, an employee would have accrued 17 hours of sick time; accrual has a maximum of 40 hours per year.
Up to 40 hours can carry over to the next year, but only a maximum of 40 hours could be used in any given year. If an employer currently offers vacation or personal time at the rate of 1 hour per 40 worked or better, the plan in place currently would satisfy the new law.
The items that the paid sick leave can be used for is quite expansive. One can use the time for illness, treatment, or injury to themselves, a child, a parent, or a spouse. A signed document by a health care provider is needed to take the time, and for a victim of sexual assault, documentation from a court or counselor is needed.
A significant part of the argument for the bill, supporting the implementation of paid sick leave, involves restaurant employees. Since so many of these employees are paid on the lower end of the spectrum, the loss of wages when one takes a day due to sickness is substantial. Thus, many choose to simply work sick, creating significant health risks in the food industry.
But often those without a paid sick leave program are those that employ workers close to or even below minimum, where a loss of wages would have the most impact. In the testimony given the legislature in March, many of the accounts were of low-wage earners that needed extended time off, nearly bankrupting them, and many stating that after missing significant time at work, they were laid off or fired.
The law would make retribution for using sick leave illegal. If an employer fired an employee for using sick leave, there would be penalties, up to $600 per occurrence and may include the re-hire of the employee.
Information provided by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) showed that 40% of workers in Connecticut have no sick time, 78% of food service workers have no sick time, and 77% of low wage earners have no sick time. According to State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, 257,000 employees that do not have paid sick leave currently would become eligible.
But while unions and workers lined up to support the bill, businesses and their representatives showed up to oppose it.
If Connecticut were to pass a paid sick leave bill, it would be the first state in the country to do so.
Let’s hope other States wake up and start to make provisions to protect workers rights instead of examples of Wisconsin or Ohio who are trying to force a submissive work force for the Koch Brothers by busting the unions in their state.