ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of business groups said it will oppose a paid sick leave proposal that is a major priority in the General Assembly, but the group acknowledged the ‘political realities’ that point to the likely passage of such a proposal.
The coalition of roughly a dozen groups that represent small businesses in the state said the paid sick leave policies proposed in House Bill 1 will have a detrimental effect on employers in the state and result in the reduction of jobs and worker hours.
“Maryland has a long-standing reputation of not being a business-friendly state, and it is in part due to the increasing number of costly mandates the legislature has and continues to pass,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “Businesses have been vilified for far too long and are portrayed as not caring about our employees. That could not be farther from the truth.”
The announcement by the coalition came hours before a scheduled evening rally in favor of paid sick leave legislation that was set for Monday night before legislators return to work for the week.
The House bill, cross-filed with Senate Bill 230, would require employers with 15 or more employees to offer paid sick leave to any employee who works at least eight hours a week at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. The number of paid sick leave hours would cap at 80 hours annually. Employees could carry over a maximum of 56 hours every year.
Tolle said the provisions in the bill would hurt small businesses that want to provide benefits to their employees.
“The reality is not every business is able to do so because it comes with a cost,” Tolle said. “That cost must come from somewhere, and they’ll either find it in the form of jobs, hours, increased consumer costs or benefits.”
Tolle added that local governments with paid sick leave policies pile on and make it more difficult for businesses that have locations around the state and now must comply with a patchwork of state and local policies. Currently, Montgomery County is the only local government with its own paid sick leave law.
Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, acknowledged that pre-emption was important but said it should be balanced against the needs of individual counties.
“I understand when we have a hodgepodge of regulations, be it sick leave or prevailing wage or whatever — the labor laws — it makes it very difficult from a business perspective,” said Middleton, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, in an interview last week. “So to the extent that we can have some uniformity, we should have it but we have to recognize there are some areas when the cost of living is higher, where the ability to get people work is more difficult.”
Gov. Larry Hogan in December announced his own paid sick leave plan that would apply to businesses with 50 employees or more and provide about 40 hours annually of paid sick leave. The coalition, which includes the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Maryland and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and National Federal of Independent Businesses, declined to take a position on the bill because they have not yet seen the legislation.
“We’ve sat at the table for years explaining what our concerns are in the bill. Ultimately the pieces of legislation in no way affect the majority of our concerns,” Tolle said.
But Tolle said the group is seeking a seat at the table in an attempt to improve what they see as bad legislation.
“One-size-fits-all mandates are always going to be problematic,” Tolle said. “However, we are aware there are political realities that exist here. It certainly is the priority, at least of the House chamber that introduced it as their first piece of legislation. We understand they will be pushing very hard for it to move.”