Sick leave bill faces opposition

LIHUE — A measure that could extend sick leave benefit opportunities to more service industry workers is gaining traction in the Legislature, where some lawmakers say more fine-tuning might be needed before it can become law.

“A study is prudent because we need to know the consequences that this measure will have on businesses,” Rep. Daynette “Dee” Morikawa, D, Koloa-Niihau, wrote in an email. “On the other hand, we need to support workers who provide care to their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs or financial implications of time off without pay. This legislation needs more work and discussion.”

Bill proponents say the new employer requirements outlined in House Bill 496 will close a loophole in existing federal and state laws by extending sick and family leave benefits to more people, including part-time food service workers, employees of small businesses, and women who often serve as primary caregivers.

Opponents, meanwhile, say the proposed law would hurt small- and medium-sized businesses by increasing their operating costs and curtailing job growth.

“Most casual workers of the resorts have another full-time job with benefits, including sick leaves and to work one or two days a week — it’s basically to supplement their income,” Pono Kai Resort general manager Peter Sit said. “By passing the bill, it will increase the costs of hiring casual workers which can decrease opportunity for employment.”

The measure, which is slated to be considered by the full Senate today, requires the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to work with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to conduct a study on the cost of implementing a family leave insurance program that would provide an employee with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave annually.

It would also require a company with at least 50 service worker employees to accrue and use paid sick leave beginning on Jan. 1, 2016 at a rate of at least one hour of paid sick leave for each 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year.

These employees, under the proposed law, would also be allowed to carry over up to 80 hours of unused earned paid sick leave for the current calendar year to the next one.

Paid sick leave, according to the proposal, could be granted for preventative medical care; family violence or sexual assault response services; or an illness, injury or health condition suffered by service workers, their children, or their spouse.

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii sent out a mass email on Monday urging members to oppose the bill.

“We need your participation in telling your legislators not to pass this bill,” it read. “While it may not affect your company, it will affect other businesses who may be your clients or partners.”

The mail states, the “Paid sick and family leave bill will add huge cost and administrative burden to businesses.”

Current federal laws, outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, allow employees who work at a business with at least 50 employees to have 12 weeks of unpaid leave. State family leave laws, however, restrict eligibility by extending four weeks of unpaid leave only to employees who work at a business with more than 100 employees.

If the proposed law is approved today by the full Senate, it will be sent over for state House lawmakers to consider and review.

“Your committee finds that Hawaii’s working families are not adequately supported during times of caregiving and illness, and that the majority of Hawaii’s workforce cannot afford to take unpaid leave to provide care for a newborn, bond with a new child, or care for a family member with a serious health condition,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Jill Tokuda wrote in a memo on Friday to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. Some state lawmakers, however, aren’t sold on the idea just yet.

Rep. James “Jimmy” Tokioka, D, Omao-Wailua Homesteads, said he understands the bill’s intent and commends lawmakers “for taking a step back to examine the fiscal impacts of this proposed policy.”

Still, Tokioka said he has “grave concerns about the negative effects it could have on small businesses, if this bill becomes law.”

“Hawaii is one of the costliest states in which to do business, and requiring employers to provide an additional eight weeks of paid family leave would only exacerbate this problem,” Tokioka wrote in an email. “The additional costs of doing business will either be passed on to the customer, or would force mom-and-pop stores to close down. While I sympathize with the struggles we all face to make ends meet and care for our families, I do not believe that it should be on the backs of our small businesses.”

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