Right-sized Sick Leave, a Goldilocks Debate

The Governor’s sick leave proposal creates higher thresholds for sick leave coverage than the legislation passed by the House of Delegates last year.

The Governor’s sick leave proposal forges a Goldilocks dilemma on the “just right” size for sick leave benefits. The Administration’s Press Release from December 7 describes his proposal as “common sense, balanced paid sick leave benefits.”

Goldilocks presents the “dialectical three,” where “the first is wrong in one way, the second in another or opposite way, and only the third, in the middle, is just right.” (literary critique, Wikipedia)

The proposal comes in contrast to legislation that passed the House of Delegates. For one example, the Governor’s proposal would cover employees who work 30 or more hours per week, while the legislation passed last year would cover those who regularly work 8 hours or more per week for an employer.

The set-up may pressure a legislative debate comparable to the Goldilocks story, where a first and second option drive a third, compromise solution.

County Context: The Forest

The context of this legislation for county governments requires a brief description of the forest through which Goldilocks walks. County governments generally provide sick leave and other health benefits to employees who work more than 30 hours per week, so there is the potential that the Governor’s proposal would have minimal effect on county employers. Least year’s legislation, on the other hand, could negatively affect services counties provide to the community. From MACo’s testimony,

Extending broad leave benefits to part-time employees would require counties to make administrative changes and incur additional costs; however, the larger concern is the potential operational inefficiency. Providing many public services depends on the attendance of those employees who work a limited schedule. Even as amended, the bill may increase costs of providing services, such as after-school activities, summer camps, and community services for vulnerable populations. Accommodating this legislation could result in cuts to those programs.

Last Year’s Legislation: The First Bed

After several years of debate, the House of Delegates passed an amended form of legislation mandating sick leave in the 2016 session of the General Assembly. The legislation passed the House in the final days of the Session and did not pass the Senate.

The Department of Legislative Services summarized the legislation that passed the House of Delegates last year as follows,

This bill requires an employer with more than 14 employees to have a sick and safe leave policy under which an employee (who regularly works 8 or more hours per week) earns at least 1 hour of paid sick and safe leave, at the same rate as the employee normally earns, for every 30 hours an employee works. An employer with 14 or fewer employees, based on the average monthly number of employees during the preceding year, must have a sick and safe leave policy that provides an employee (who regularly works 8 or more hours per week) with at least 1 hour of unpaid sick and safe leave for every 30 hours an employee works. An employer is not required to allow an employee to earn or carry over more than 56 hours of earned sick and safe leave in a year, use more than 80 hours of earned leave in a year, accrue more than 80 hours at any time, or use earned sick and safe leave during the first 90 calendar days worked or first 480 hours worked, whichever is shorter.

The Governor’s Proposal: The Second Bed

Last week, the Governor announced he would be introducing sick leave legislation in the 2017 General Assembly session. According to the Governor’s Press Release, under his proposal,

Businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to offer paid sick leave totaling at least 40 hours per year, with the ability for employees to roll over a maximum of 40 hours each year. The proposal also calls for part-time employees to be covered after a minimum of 30 working hours. If a company already has a general leave policy that meets these minimum requirements, the state will not interfere. In addition, the state will honor existing collective bargaining agreements with unions. The 50-employee threshold matches current federal standards under the Family Medical Leave Act and the Affordable Care Act.

A Possible Compromise: The Third Bed

Coverage from the Daily Record (subscriber content) indicates that Senator Mac Middleton, who plans to be the lead sponsor of sick leave legislation this year has been holding a series of meetings between advocates and business interests to reach a compromise between them. Bryan Sears of The Daily Record writes,

Paid sick leave legislation could become reality in Maryland under a compromise proposal being hammered out between legislators and supporters and opponents of the measure.

With regard to a compromise between the General Assembly and the Governor, however, the Washington Post writes,

With Democratic lawmakers expected to introduce their own sick-leave bills in the House and Senate, advocates and business groups are gearing up for a legislative battle in the three-month session that begins Jan. 11.

“If the governor is willing to sit down with the various interest groups and forge a compromise, I’m all for that,” said Middleton, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “But he has to sit down and work it out.”

A Letter to the Editor following the Post’s article states,

They should negotiate a compromise for the betterment of Maryland. Why go into aggressive attack mode and a standoff? Our legislators should be civil and end the automatic, divisive responses, for the sake of Maryland citizens and, indeed, for the whole country.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information on how this debate unfolds and how it may affect county governments. For background, see the previous posts, Sick Leave Bill Meeting Prompts Preemption DebateHouse Sends Amended Sick Leave Bill to Senate, and MACo’s testimony from last year.