Connecticut was one of the first states to pass a Family and Medical Leave Act in the 1990s, and a coalition is hoping it maintains its edge by passing a bill to ensure that it’s paid leave.
Currently, most large employers offer some type of paid leave for employees who need to take care of a sick loved one, are sick themselves, or just had a baby, but at least 40 percent of the workplace is not even covered by the federal legislation championed by former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. The bill would give employees, including those making minimum wage, an option to contribute as little as a $1 per week to a trust fund that would provide them with their full salary for up to 12 weeks of leave.
Catherine Bailey, public policy director for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said even those who have access to unpaid leave are scared they will get fired if they take it or they simply can’t afford to take it.
“No one should have to put their family in economic jeopardy because of a terrible illness or the joy of a new baby,” Bailey said Thursday at a press conference.
But in order to make the new paid system work, all employees in the state would need to participate.
“It’s important that all employees, with an exception of self-employed individuals, be part of the system,” Bailey wrote in her testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
The task force, which studied the issue and made its recommendations in September, found that in order to be eligible an employee must have earned $9,300 in a 12-month period in the two previous years. Employees should earn 100 percent of their wages up to a cap of $1,000 per week, according to Bailey.
But not everyone agrees the program would be beneficial.
Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the program is costly for employees because it’s funded by a paycheck deduction. He said it’s also costly for employers who still have to pay fringe benefits when an employee is on leave.
“By requiring an employer maintain a job for an employee that is absent up to 12 weeks each year, you are by default also requiring the employer to maintain that absent employee’s non-wage benefits,” Gjede wrote in his testimony.
He said it would also be a huge cost to the state because it would require the Labor Department to hire more staff to administer the program.
Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer testified in writing that there’s “no appropriations in the budget for such an expanded program.”
The paid Family and Medical Leave Act was just one of several bills receiving the support of a group calling itself the Everybody Benefits Coalition. The bill is one of many that is part of its Women’s Economic Agenda.
The other bills the group is supporting include an expansion of the Paid Sick Days legislation, elimination of the tip credit waitresses and bartenders are paid, a fair scheduling bill that requires businesses to post work schedules 21 days in advance, and a bill that fines large employers like Wal-Mart $1 an hour for every employee making less than $15 an hour.