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Delaware lawmakers wrangle over expanding paid leave policies

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(The Center Square) — Delaware has yet to implement a new paid leave law, but Democrats are pushing for approval of a new plan to require private employers to provide sick and “safety” leave for their workers.

A bill that cleared the Legislature’s Committee on Labor this week would require employers to provide workers with at least one hour of earned sick time and safety leave for every 30 hours worked unless they already provide similar benefits. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be allowed to offer unpaid leave to workers.

There are other safeguards for employers in the plan, which is now headed to the House of Representatives for a vote, including a cap on the number of hours at 40 per year and allowing businesses to require at least 90 days of employment before workers may use earned sick leave.

Backers of the plan cited recent studies of paid leave law suggesting that the policies have boosted morale among workers and employers, and led to higher productivity and lower turnover.

“Paid sick time is also good for public health,” state Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, the bill’s sponsor, said in remarks ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the bill. “Workers without paid sick time are the workers who most often come into contact with people, products and food.”

Unlike the state’s new paid leave law, which is set to go into effect next year, the new time off proposal could be used by workers dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, for things such as meeting with lawyers, victim service organizations or moving to a new location to escape abuse, according to supporters.

Republicans criticized the proposal as government overreach of the private sector and voiced concerns during Tuesday’s committee hearing about the impact of the proposed regulations on small business owners.

“I’m going to stand for Delaware workers and Delaware employers by not supporting this,” state Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, said in remarks ahead of Tuesday’s committee vote.

Consideration of the bill comes as Delaware officials prepare to implement the Healthy Delaware Families Act, which will require businesses employing 25 or more workers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave a year, and up to six weeks of paid family leave, medical leave or military leave every two years.

The new paid leave program will be funded by a payroll tax split between employers and employees, beginning Jan. 1, 2025. Under the new law, the weekly benefit would be 80% of a worker’s average weekly wage in the preceding 12 months, with a minimum benefit of $100 per week. Workers earning less than $100 a week receive a benefit equal to their full wage.

Business leaders have raised concerns and frustrations about the new paid leave law and the proposed regulations to implement it. Adding another financial burden to employers would be a bad move, they have argued.

“The chamber is deeply concerned about this bill because it’s likely to have a sweeping and disproportionately negative impact on our small business community as it places a tremendous burden on employers who are already struggling to maintain a steady, dependable, reliable workforce,” Dina Vendetti, president of the Central Delaware’s Chamber of Commerce, said in testimony against the bill.

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