A new Md. sick-leave bill or ‘same old, same old’?

But major business groups say the measure remains flawed

Bryan P. Sears//February 2, 2016

A new Md. sick-leave bill or ‘same old, same old’?

But major business groups say the measure remains flawed

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 2, 2016

(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)
(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers in Annapolis are being urged to pass a revised bill that would mandate paid sick leave on all businesses in Maryland.

Supporters of the bill say many of the changes this year are “in the weeds” or technical but were identified last fall as important issues by some business groups.

“For 700,000 Marylanders something as simple as a strep throat can mean job loss or financial disaster,” said said Melissa Broome, deputy director of Baltimore-based Job Opportunities Task Force, a prime backer of the effort through a nearly 150-member coalition known as Working Matters.

Broome and other supporters say the bill is common-sense legislation that protects employees and public health, and they use the post-2014 election catchphrase “business friendly.”

“Maryland families can’t wait to get better,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City and sponsor of the bill in the House of Delegates. “Maryland families can’t wait for earned sick leave any more.”

Opponents say the bill is more of the same legislation that has failed in each of the last three years.

“The idea that this is business friendly— that’s poppycock,” said Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist who represents a number of retail and contracting businesses who oppose mandatory paid sick leave. “The foundation of this bill is that employers are mistreating and abusing their employees. That’s the foundation, and it’s just not true. It’s hard to find good employees, and if you find one you want to keep them in the worst way.”

“If this was so business friendly, you’d see more business groups supporting it,” Bereano said.

A number of business groups, such as the Maryland Retailers Association, Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Dealers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, oppose the legislation. Last week they released a poll they say shows public support for the idea is conditional and falls off amid concerns about loss of jobs and benefits.

Supporters of the legislation reject the survey and call it “push polling.”

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has also previously opposed the legislation and last month said that it would not support any revised legislation that placed a mandate on businesses.

Last year House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s County, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas. M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles County, wrote to supporters and opponents and essentially ordered them to work out more controversial elements of the law.

“We feel like we’ve done that,” said Clippinger.

This year’s bill, as with last year’s incarnation, still requires businesses with 10 or more employees to offer seven days of paid sick leave. Companies with fewer employees would be required to offer the same number of days but they c0uld do so without pay. The leave could also be used by victims of abuse, stalking and sexual assault — so-called safe leave.

Supporters met in November with a number of organizations and businesses including Comcast and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in an attempt to iron out a bill that would address the needs of business owners while not gutting the intent of the legislation.

Two of the biggest changes in the bill include a provision that exempts employers who provide leave of any kind that meets or exceeds the requirements of the proposal as long as the time can also be used for sick and safe leave. Other changes allow employees to switch shifts at work to cover sick time and allow employers to pay out sick leave on the smallest increment allowed by individual payroll accounting systems. Additionally, employers who opt to pay out unused earned sick leave when an employee quits do not have to reinstate additional sick leave if that employee is rehired within 12 months.

“Most of these changes are cosmetic,” Bereano said. “It’s more the same old same old,” Bereano said.

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