(Updated 12:38 p.m.) Mandating paid sick days for companies with more than 50 employees has become a perennial issue but, unlike his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly voiced support for the concept.
Malloy’s support has some wondering if Connecticut will become the first state to legislate such a policy, despite a fiscal climate that has placed added emphasis on any law’s that impact job growth.
Last month, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research released this report, indicating that a similar mandate in San Francisco, enacted in 2007, generally has the support of both employers and employees. The survey was conducted during January and February of 2010.
The survey found that, despite the availability of five or nine paid sick days, 25 percent of the employees with access used no sick days. The typical worker used only three days during a year, the report said. And parents who gained access to paid sick days were 20 percent less likely to send their child to school with a contagious disease than parents who would not be paid for the time off, it said.
That’s been beneficial to general public health, the report said.
“Health care costs for employers and the public should have declined both because sick individuals and their children could get low-cost preventive care, and by reducing the spread of contagious illnesses in workplaces and schools,” the report read.
It’s also cheaper for employers in the long run, according to attorney and human resources consultant Scott Macdonald. When employees come to work sick it takes them longer to recover and they risk passing the illness along to coworkers, Macdonald said.
On the other hand, employers who voluntarily offer paid sick time to their staff find that when employees return from sick leave they are more refreshed and morale in general is higher in their workplaces, he said. They are considered better workplaces too, he said.
Macdonald said that companies that don’t offer paid sick time don’t tend to make the Society of Human Resource Management’s annual best small and medium workplace lists. Companies that do make those lists tend to be more successful than their competitors in the long run, he said.
Two-thirds of the 727 employers surveyed in San Francisco indicated they supported the measure and only one in seven of those employers reported an adverse effect on profitability due to the mandate, it said.
According to the report, only about one of every six businesses reported having to introduce a new sick leave policy as a result of the mandate and a third of the businesses surveyed reported difficulties implementing the paid sick leave law.
About a sixth of businesses surveyed were still in violation of the law and did not offer paid sick leave, it said.
While it may work for San Francisco, Kia Murrell of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association said the city is not a comparable population to the state of Connecticut.
For one thing, the city is more liberal from an ideological standpoint than the state of Connecticut, Murrell said.
“They also could not be further away from us from a demographic stand point,” Murrell went on. “We have 3 million people to take care of they have really tens of thousands. San Francisco from a population standpoint doesn’t even have a million people in it.”
Murrell said it’s important to consider what policies businesses already have in place when talking about mandating paid sick time. In the case of San Francisco, it’s likely many of the businesses offered paid sick time.
It’s also important to consider how the mandate would affect businesses with operations outside of the state, she said, especially when talking about a tight border state like Connecticut.
“If you have a company that only has one Connecticut operation and you operate in other places, once Connecticut’s costs are raised above whatever the level is you’re willing to tolerate, then you have one less reason to continue being in Connecticut,” she said.“Your neighbors down the road are going to know that they don’t have whatever it is you have as a Connecticut employee.”
A mandate also infringes on the management discretion of businesses, Murrell said. Companies determine what their fringe benefits will be and when a mandate is applied then employers must reconcile what they do with what the law wants them to do, she said.
For instance, if a company had a particular employee who had a tendency to call out sick on beautiful Friday afternoons, a manager may decide to stop approving sick time for that worker, she said. If the sick time was mandated by the state, they would lose some of their ability to make those decisions, she said.
But Macdonald said the law would have no effect on those scenarios.
“That would be a management issue and the law doesn’t prohibit employers from making those decisions,” he said, adding that nothing in the law would keep the company from firing that employee if it was deemed appropriate.
Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute in Washington D.C. said Tuesday that it’s important to look at why businesses aren’t giving their employees paid sick time. More often than not it’s because they can’t afford to and forcing this mandate on employers will lead to layoffs, he said.
He said even the study in San Francisco found that about 30 percent of the lowest age earners saw a reduction in hours or were laid off as a result of the mandate sick pay in that city.
Working Families Party State Director Jon Green, a proponent of the bill, said the governor’s support of the measure has him cautiously optimistic that bill may become law this year.
“We think the odds are pretty good,” he said. In any given year the bill has passed at least one chamber of the General Assembly.
But it won’t come without legislative opposition. Late Monday afternoon Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, emailed supporters, urging them to come out and testify in opposition to the measure, which he said was a job-killer.
“If this law passes, many businesses will be forced to layoff workers in order to afford the new benefit they must provide the employees they retain,” he said.
Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, who runs a small family manufacturing business in his hometown, said Tuesday that paid sick days is another mandate employers won’t be able to afford. He said more than 5,000 employees have been laid off in Waterbury alone over the past few years. He said the bill is not only “anti-employer, it’s anti-employee” because many will be laid off as a result.
The public hearing on the bill will be held at 3 p.m. in room 2A of the Legislative Office Building.