Expansion of Paid Sick Time to More Connecticut Workers Proposed at State Capitol

Connecticut by the Numbers

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In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to require certain employers to provide paid sick days. At a virtual public hearing on Thursday, advocates will urge the state legislature’s Labor Committee to approve legislation that would update and expand that landmark law, broadening it to provide protections and benefits to workers left out a decade ago, as well as responding to the adverse impact of COVID-19 on workers, particularly women, in the Connecticut workforce.

The proposal, House Bill 6357, is described as a “significant expansion” by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and a “critical step to further strengthen Connecticut’s stance on paid sick leave and respond to the economic despair faced by too many workers as a result of the pandemic,” by Madeline Granato, Policy Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), in testimony prepared for the Committee.

The bill would remove the employer size threshold and job classification list outlined in existing law and requires all employers, regardless of size or industry, to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time to their employees per year; the current law only applies to employers with 50+ employees in certain service occupations. The law does not cover employees of employers with fewer than 50 employees, federal employees, certain employees of manufacturers and nonprofit organizations, temporary and day laborers and domestic workers.

It would also eliminate the waiting period for an employee to use the paid sick days they’ve accrued from 680 hours, the current requirement, to immediately after they begin working. The bill would also broaden existing law to allow workers to use paid sick days to care for a spouse, child of any age, grandparent, grandchild, parent, sibling, and any individual related to the employee by blood or affinity who is the equivalent of family. Currently, workers can only use paid sick time to care for a child up to the age of 18 or a spouse, defined as husband or wife. The law does not include time to care for loved ones outside of the traditional “nuclear” family.

If approved by the legislature and Gov. Lamont, the proposal would also allow sick time to be used when a worker’s place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency and provides an additional 80 hours of paid sick time for COVID-19.

In her testimony, CWEALF’s Granato tells the Committee that “the pandemic has highlighted the severe disparities in our state’s economic systems and exacerbated long-standing racial and gender inequities.” She points out that “Women and people of color are disproportionately represented in jobs on the frontlines of the pandemic where they are more likely to lack access to paid sick leave and face higher risks of exposure to COVID-19.”

She explains that “women in Connecticut comprise 49% of the state’s workforce but make up 78% of the healthcare workforce, 67% of the education workforce, and 56% of accommodation and food service industries. These three industries are among those most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and also often do not provide critical supportive workplace policies such as paid sick leave.”

State Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby cautions legislators that “the proposed bill covers the need for paid time off in cases that would not be covered by the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, such as routine medical appointments and minor illnesses such as colds and flus. As a result, there is a gap between the two laws currently that would leave many workers without protection.”

He adds that “if passed, this bill will have a significant fiscal impact on CTDOL. This expansion of the current law would require the Agency to hire additional staff in our Wage and Workplace Standards Division as well as our Legal Division to accommodate the increased inquiries and complaints that would result.” Westby also indicated that the proposed bill “would update Connecticut’s law to align with policies passed in those other states, including neighboring states.”

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the state’s largest business organization, opposes the bill and has urged the Committee not to act on it. “It allows for quicker accumulation of the leave and permits it to be used for more purposes – in some cases, without the provision of any supporting documentation from the employee,” explains Eric Gjede, Vice President of Government Affairs. Gjede points out that the proposal would add to the considerable burdens the state has already placed on small businesses, citing increases in the minimum age and the Family and Medical Leave Act, both approved by the previous session of the legislature.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the state’s economy and make up most of the businesses in every one of your districts,” Gjede said in testimony for the Committee. “These businesses cannot survive if they are expected to incur new costs and administrative burdens.”

Granato, in her testimony, points out that “research shows that workers with paid sick leave are less likely to leave their jobs, which saves businesses money on turnover costs such as interviewing and training.”

In testimony filed with the Committee, New Haven-based Black and Brown United in Action, a local grass roots advocacy organization, points out that “in Connecticut, there are approximately 40,000 domestic workers who serve as housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers in private homes. Domestic workers play a critical role in Connecticut's economy, working to ensure the health and prosperity of Connecticut families and freeing others to participate in the workforce.”

According to the organization, “a majority (52.4%) of domestic workers are Black, Hispanic, over a quarter (27.2%) are Hispanic women and nearly one in five (19.7%) are Black women. Most house cleaners are Hispanic women (58.9%) and more than a quarter (27.2%) of agency-based home care aides are Black women.”

During the pandemic, the organization’s testimony notes, “the need for paid time off has never been more clear, as the safety of domestic workers is threatened simply by going to work,” adding that “By guaranteeing paid sick days to everyone, the bill ensures that people can take the time they need for testing and quarantines without sacrificing their financial security and wellbeing.”

“Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and domestic slavery because of the unique circumstances of working inside a private household combined with a lack of legal protection particularly during this unprecedented moment of public health and economic crises.”

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