Businesses Push Back On Paid-Sick-Leave Laws | KERA News

Businesses Push Back On Paid-Sick-Leave Laws

May 6, 2017
Originally published on May 6, 2017 9:39 am

Nearly three-quarters of private sector workers receive paid sick days from their employers, though there is no federal mandate requiring it. In recent years, dozens of states, cities and counties have passed their own ordinances, which typically require employers to provide between three and seven paid sick days a year.

The business community is fighting against the proliferation of these laws, saying that the landscape for paid-leave regulation is getting way too complex.

It's a large administrative headache, says Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management.

"Mainly because of this hodgepodge, or patchwork, of a growing number of states and localities implementing ... paid-sick-leave mandates," she says.

So Horn says her group, along with other business groups, is helping draft a Republican proposal in the House of Representatives. The terms aren't finalized, but Horn says the basic idea would be to set a floor for the amount of paid sick leave employers could voluntarily offer. If that minimum threshold is met, she says, the employer would then be exempt from state or local regulations.

The concept is known as pre-emption; such laws are increasingly common, and not just for paid leave. Some states have laws that pre-empt city and county regulations governing minimum wage, anti-discrimination policies, or ride-sharing.

So far, 19 states have legislation that pre-empts local governments from passing their own laws on paid sick leave. (Oregon has a paid-sick-leave law that went into effect last year requiring paid sick time for all but the smallest employers. That law establishes paid sick leave statewide, but it also pre-empts local laws.)

Proponents like Horn argue that federal and state pre-emption laws alleviate big administrative burdens for employers. But opponents argue such efforts undercut states' and cities' authority. Since many of the local measures were passed by ballot measures, their opponents say pre-emption nullifies the will of local voters who want more generous benefits for workers.

"We are concerned that we could start to see more super-pre-emptive measures where both the federal government as well as the state government is impinging on city rights," says Brooks Rainwater, a senior executive for the National League of Cities. He says statehouses tend to be more dominated by rural conservative interests, who see themselves opposed to some progressive policies backed by urban voters.

Paid leave — whether it's sick days or time off to care for a new child — is politically popular on both sides of the aisle.

Democratic proposals include the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would create a fund to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Another, called the Healthy Families Act, would allow workers to earn up to seven days of annual paid sick leave.

Republicans, meanwhile, last week passed a controversial proposal, known as the Working Families Flexibility Act, that would allow employers to offer paid leave as compensation for overtime work. Another, called the Strong Families Act, would offer tax credits for businesses voluntarily offering leave.

Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, says her group's post-election poll showed 82 percent support for paid sick leave.

She says support is nonpartisan. "That includes two-thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and virtually all Democrats," she says.

That study underscores a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, showing support for paid leave ranging from 67 to 85 percent, depending on the specific policy. President Trump has endorsed parental leave and has not repealed his predecessor's executive order granting paid sick leave to federal contractors.

Shabo says some companies in recent years have also announced generous leave policies, but she says low-wage workers still have less access than their white-collar professional counterparts.

"Where we've seen progress has been in places regionally in the West, where Oregon and California have adopted paid-sick-days laws," she says.

Though the debate over paid sick leave is national, most analysts agree Congress is less likely to act on it and that the fight will remain mostly at the state and local levels.

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About three-quarters of private sector workers get paid sick leave, but there is no federal law requiring employers to pay for sick time. In recent years, dozens of states and local governments have passed their own laws, bills that typically require employers to provide between three and seven paid sick days a year. But now, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, some employers are pushing back and are looking for ways to pre-empt those regulations.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Lisa Horn says larger employers are concerned that the landscape for paid-leave regulation is getting way too complex.

LISA HORN: Mainly because of this kind of hodgepodge or patchwork of growing number of states and localities implementing, specifically, paid-sick-leave mandates.

NOGUCHI: So Horn, who directs congressional affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, says her group is helping draft a House Republican proposal. It's still a work in progress, but Horn says, the basic idea would be to set a floor for an amount of paid-sick leave employers could voluntarily offer. If that minimum threshold is met, she says, the employer would then be exempt from state or local regulations.

HORN: They would then be deemed to have satisfied those state and local paid-leave mandates and other requirements.

NOGUCHI: Pre-emption laws are increasingly common, not just for paid leave. Some states pre-empt city and county regulations governing minimum wage, anti-discrimination policies or ride-sharing. So far, 19 states have legislation that pre-empt local governments from passing their own laws on paid sick leave. Proponents, like Horn, argue federal and state pre-emption laws alleviate big administrative burdens for employers. But opponents argue such efforts undercut states' and cities' authority and the will of local voters who want more generous benefits for workers. Brooks Rainwater is senior executive for the National League of Cities.

BROOKS RAINWATER: We are concerned that we could start to see more super-pre-emptive measures where both the federal government as well as the state government is impinging on city rights.

NOGUCHI: Paid leave, whether it's sick days or time off to care for a new child, is politically popular on both sides of the aisle. Democratic proposals include a bill that would create a fund to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Another would allow workers to earn up to seven days of annual paid sick leave. Republicans, meanwhile, last week passed a controversial proposal that would allow employers to offer paid leave as compensation for overtime work. Another proposal would offer tax credits for businesses voluntarily offering leave. Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, says her group's post-election poll showed 82 percent support for paid sick leave.

VICKI SHABO: And that includes two-thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and virtually all Democrats.

NOGUCHI: That underscores a March poll from the Pew Research Center showing support for paid leave ranging from 67 to 85 percent depending on the specific policy. President Trump has endorsed parental leave and has not repealed his predecessor's executive order granting paid sick leave to federal contractors. Shabo says some companies in recent years have expanded their leave policies. But she says low-wage workers still have less access than their white-collar professional counterparts.

SHABO: Where we've seen progress has been in places regionally in the West where Oregon and California have both adopted paid-sick days laws.

NOGUCHI: Analysts say it's not clear that Congress has the political will to act on any of the proposals on paid sick leave. But that could change as state and local governments press ahead with their own initiatives. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.