Employment Law - State Legislation - Connecticut Enacts Paid Sick Leave Act

Harvard Law Review, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Employment Law - State Legislation - Connecticut Enacts Paid Sick Leave Act


Legislative innovations, especially those recognizing new rights for workers, are often born of a long series of compromises. The drafters of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (1) (FMLA), for instance, reluctantly opted to propose unpaid rather than paid leave in the interest of political viability. (2) Eighteen years later, Connecticut remedied that shortcoming for certain workers within the state. On July 1, 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law An Act Mandating Employers Provide Paid Sick Leave to Employees (3) (PSLA), which, as of January 1, 2012, requires certain employers to offer workers up to five paid sick days per year. (4) While this provision is undoubtedly groundbreaking, the law is also notable for the variety of concessions its drafters had to make to ensure its passage. The drafters of the PSLA narrowed the bill's coverage through both affirmative exemptions and implicit exclusions. Because history suggests that the Act's implicit exclusions may be more conducive to future expansions in coverage than the affirmative exemptions will be, proponents of workplace reform should take note of this distinction.

The history of the PSLA is a testament both to its proponents' persistence and to a legislative process that systematically chips away at proposals for reform. The Labor and Public Employees Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly first introduced a paid sick leave bill in 2007. (5) This first attempt was the most ambitious: the law was to apply to any employer of twenty-five or more individuals in any sector and allow workers to take up to fifty-two hours of sick leave per year.6 The legislature considered a similar proposal in 2008,7 and again in 2009, when it confined the initiative's coverage to employers of fifty or more individuals.8 In 2010, it reduced the annual sick leave limit to forty hours. (9) Meanwhile, although the Ohio legislature had considered a paid sick leave initiative (10) and the municipal governments of San Francisco, Milwaukee, and the District of Columbia had enacted similar ordinances, (11) no state had yet mandated paid sick days.

Finally, last February, Connecticut's Labor and Public Employees Committee introduced a new bill (12) that, after a series of amendments, scaled back its earlier ambitions considerably. This new bill enumerated specific classes of employees, all in service industries, (13) who would be entitled to up to forty hours of sick leave per year. (14) As in earlier versions, employees would accrue sick leave at a rate of one hour per forty hours worked. (15) These workers would be eligible for paid time off to attend to their own or a family member's health condition (16) or to their own needs related to an incidence of family violence or sexual assault. (17) The 2011 bill kept the exemption for employers of fewer than fifty individuals, and it added exemptions for employers in the manufacturing industry (18) and for nationally chartered 501(c)(3) organizations that provide daycare, recreation, and educational services. (19) This more modest version of the original proposal passed the Senate on May 25, 2011, by a vote of eighteen to seventeen, and the House on June 4, 2011, by a vote of seventy-six to sixty-five. (20)

During debate in both chambers, the bill's proponents emphasized its potential benefits to working-class families (21) along with its implications for public health. They reasoned that allowing service employees to go to work sick puts the public at risk. (22) Meanwhile, many opponents argued that imposing greater costs on businesses would drive them away from Connecticut. (23) They further argued that a recession was an especially bad time to introduce such costs. (24)

While many legislators resisted imposing a new burden on any employers--perhaps predictably (25)--others were more concerned about where the lines would be drawn. In particular, several legislators challenged the fifty-employee cutoff, (26) sometimes worrying that the restriction would discourage employers from expanding their payrolls beyond forty-nine (27) Some also contended that this exclusion undermined the bill's public health goals, since many restaurants employ fewer than fifty people. …

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