Business groups are criticizing provisions in House Democrats’ package of measures to respond to the new coronavirus that would mandate that public- and private-sector employers allow workers to accrue paid sick-leave—moves they say would impose severe financial costs.
The relief package, (H.R. 6201), which is set for a floor vote Thursday, would establish a broad national paid sick-leave program requiring that employers allow workers to accrue as much as 56 hours, or seven days, of paid sick leave annually for any illness. It also would apply in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, or when a worker has to stay home to care for a family member. Workers would have to be paid at least their normal wage or the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is greater. Paid sick time also could be carried over from year to year.
The response package, which House Democrats introduced late Wednesday night, also would create an emergency paid-leave program to directly respond to the coronavirus. The legislation would additionally establish separate sick-leave mandates that would be implemented in future public health emergencies.
Several employer groups told Bloomberg Law they view House Democrats’ push to include a non-emergency paid sick-leave mandate as political opportunism. They accused lawmakers of attempting to leverage the public health crisis to reach a lofty policy goal.
“We are disappointed to see the House appears to have used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to try to pass a very costly, unrelated mandate that would harm small business,” said Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel with the National Federation of Independent Business.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged lawmakers Thursday to reach a solution that does not include a “federal, one-size-fits-all, permanent leave mandate on employers.”
“We believe this crisis should not be used as an opportunity to try to pass legislation that is poorly tailored to the situation and will not be signed into law,” Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in a letter to lawmakers.
House Democrats and Republicans are at odds over the broader bill, and President Donald Trump said Thursday he doesn’t support the legislation in its current form. Trump said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is negotiating changes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“There are things in there that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about,” Trump said. “So, it’s not a way for them to get some of the goodies that they haven’t been able to get for the last 25 years.”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) said he opposes the Democratic relief bill and urged Congress to stay in session another day or two to make needed fixes.
House Democrats disagree. “We don’t need 48 hours. We need to just make a decision to help families right now,” Pelosi said Thursday. “We’re here to pass a bill. When we pass a bill, we will make a judgment on what comes next.”
Too Short a Window?
The bill’s mandate for a broad paid-leave program pulls from a proposal (H.R. 6150) Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced March 9, as Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, increased its spread throughout the U.S.
That measure built off the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1784), a bill Murray and DeLauro proposed earlier to require employers with more than 15 employees to provide sick leave to workers. Business groups opposed that legislation as well, contending it would be expensive and unworkable for employers.
DeLauro, in response to business criticism, said: “National paid sick days for workers are a proactive measure with a track record of success in the 10 states and more than 30 cities where it is currently up and running. It is the right thing to do to ensure the health and economic security of workers now and in the future, and it helps businesses save money through improved retention and boosted morale.”
The short period between introduction of the bill text and the House floor vote is a problem for business groups as well. The paid-leave mandate, if it makes it into the final economic-response package, would create a permanent change to federal law—one that should receive proper committee debate and allow business groups enough time to respond accordingly, one business group lobbyist told Bloomberg Law. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his employer had not given him permission to speak publicly about the bill.
Jessica Mason, a senior policy analyst for the National Partnership for Women and Families, said the right time to pass a national paid sick leave standard was years ago, before the coronavirus crisis.
“COVID-19 has exposed the tremendous risk of public harm posed by the fact that so many working families don’t have paid sick days,” she said. “We commend the House for proposing a strong bill that would address the immediate crisis and ensure we have a robust system of public health support for future needs.”