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February 23, 2024

Democrats pitch bill expanding paid sick leave to all workers; GOP says it's ‘tone deaf’

HBJ Photo | Skyler Frazer Members of the General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee discuss proposals during the opening week of the 2024 legislative session.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee heard testimony on three proposals that would change the state’s paid sick leave laws to include all employees in the state.

Senate Bills 7 and 12 and House Bill 5166 all relate to expanding the state’s paid sick leave law, specifically so that all private sector workers in the state would be eligible for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave depending on how many hours they work. Currently, the state’s paid sick leave program only applies to companies with more than 50 workers.

A similar proposal died on the House floor in 2023, after passing in the Senate.

In addition to expanding paid sick leave benefits to all workers, the proposals would also expand the categories of family members an employee may use paid sick leave to care for, including grandchildren, for example.

It would also expand the permitted purposes that an employee may use paid sick leave for, such as counseling for a physical or psychological injury or disability.

State Rep. Kate Farrar (D-West Hartford) and state Rep. Gary Turco (D-Newington) gave testimony on behalf of their Democratic peers in the state House of Representatives. Farrar said Connecticut is beginning to fall behind neighboring states when it comes to expanding sick leave opportunities for employees.

“Too many of our dedicated workers who are working today and everyday in this state are not protected under our current paid sick day laws. I think it's striking that we can say as a state that 88% of our workers are not guaranteed the right to a single paid sick day,” Farrar said.

Turco said sick leave laws help prevent the spread of sicknesses like the seasonal flu because employees would be less likely to work when ill.

“It also protects consumers, it protects patrons — think about going to a restaurant, you don't want somebody that's sick to be serving you. You want that person to be able to stay home, take care of themselves and take care of their family,” Turco said.

In written testimony, CT Paid Leave Authority CEO Erin Choquette said the proposals would strengthen the state’s paid sick day law.

“To date, 51% of CT Paid Leave claims have supported employees to address their own serious health condition; however, we recognize that not every illness that requires time away from work to recover meets this high legal standard. The various Paid Sick Days proposals seek to fill this gap by ensuring that workers can take time away from work for illnesses like the flu, pink eye, or a stomach bug,” Choquette said.

Ahead of the hearing, Republican leaders expressed concerns about the sick leave proposals.

“It’s tone deaf,” state Sens. Stephen Harding (R-Brookfield) and Rob Sampson (R-Wolcott) said in a joint statement. “It also reveals how out of touch majority Democrats are. Burdening Connecticut job creators with unfunded mandates is a top priority for Senate Democrats. Big government telling mom and pop shops what they must do and forcing them to comply is their priority. This proposal will have a chilling effect on economic growth and crush jobs. The majority Democrats view that destruction as ‘leadership.’”

Ashley Zane, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), said the proposal, while well-intentioned, would have a negative impact on small businesses with few employees. 

“Requiring employers to provide 40 hours (of paid sick leave) a year is a one-size-fits-all policy that isn't feasible for some of our businesses, especially our startup industries,” Zane said.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents small businesses across the country, said the proposals would be another financial hit to companies already facing rising costs and labor shortages.

"Expanding mandated employer paid sick leave will add considerable costs to the state's already overburdened small businesses during an onerous time for Connecticut's Main Street economy,” said Andy Markowski, NFIB’s Connecticut state director.

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