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Connecticut lawmakers moving to expand paid sick leave law

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(The Center Square) — Connecticut lawmakers have approved a new mandatory paid leave program, brushing aside concerns by business leaders who say it will increase the financial burden for the state’s employers.

The proposal approved by the House of Representatives would require Connecticut employers to provide up to 40 hours of annual leave, allowing eligible workers to accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum mandated benefit of 40 hours a year.

House lawmakers approved the bill on an 88-61 party-line vote after almost six hours of contentious debate, with nine Democrats joining the Republican minority in opposition.

The legislation, if approved, would repeal most exemptions to the 2011 law and reduce the threshold for coverage from companies with 50 or more employees to those with 25 or more on Jan. 1, 2025. It would fall to 11 employees in 2026 and to one in 2027, under the proposal. The current law, which took effect in 2011, requires businesses with 50 or more employees in designated service occupations to provide paid sick leave.

“We’re seeing about 1.6 million people left behind,” state Rep. Manny Sanchez, D-New Britain, said in remarks ahead of the bill’s passage on Tuesday. “Most people that are minimum wage workers, women, people of color – those are the folks that will be most affected.”

Gov. Ned Lamont praised the legislation, saying it “strikes an appropriate balance between protecting our workforce while also enacting safeguards for small businesses to ensure that this right is not being misused.”

“Our existing laws on paid sick days include important protections for some workers, however there are broad categories of workers who are left unprotected, and as a result those workers are sometimes faced with a difficult decision between either going to work sick – and possibly spreading illness – or sacrificing a day’s wage,” the Democrat said.

While the bill would allow leave eligibility based on illness, treatment, medical appointments and mental health issues, it also bars employers from requesting verifying documentation from employees.

Business leaders had lobbied hard against the bill’s passage, arguing it would hurt employers financially at a time when they are still recovering from the residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and make the state less competitive.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association slammed the bill as “yet another unfortunate example of policymakers making it more burdensome for small businesses to operate in Connecticut.”

“This continues a discouraging trend over recent legislative sessions with bills that disproportionately target small businesses, the heartbeat of our economy,” Chris DiPentima, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “Businesses now unfortunately have to have their head on a swivel because there are more laws being passed that impact them in a negative way.”

Republicans also blasted the House’s approval of the measure, saying the policy would have a devastating effect on employers with few employees and make it difficult to attract new businesses.

“Democrats are again inserting government between employers and their workers by requiring businesses and nonprofits of any size to provide paid sick days,” House Minority Leader Vince Candelora, R-North Branford, said in a statement. “Amazingly, Democrats don’t consider it a mandate on businesses. This is a major step backward for Connecticut’s fragile economy.”

The legislation must still be approved by the state Senate before heading to Lamont’s desk for consideration. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House.

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