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Bad Bills Sicken Connecticut’s Small & Medium-Sized Businesses

The bills being heard by the Labor and Public Employees Committee on Thursday, February 22, are a classic case of a “cure” that’s worse than the disease. By mandating paid sick time for small businesses and other costly regulations, they thrust the heavy hand of government into the private sector, threatening the both the delicate balance of the worker-employer relationship and the well-being of Connecticut’s economy. 

Contrary to what the bills’ supporters claim, the issue has nothing to do with “compassion” for employees. These bills reflect a troubling mindset — a conviction “government knows best” when most politicians have never met a payroll, created a job, run a business, or relied on that business to feed a family. The Labor and Public Employees Committee has proposed S. B. 7, “AN ACT CONCERNING CONNECTICUT PAID SICK DAYS,” which simply reads, “to support paid sick days.” The other two bills offer little more, including the Governor’s office request for Senate Bill No. 12 that seeks “To implement the Governor’s budget recommendations.” House Bill 5166 named, “AN ACT EXPANDING PAID SICK DAYS IN THE STATE,” states: 

“To expand the paid sick days statutes to (1) apply to more employers and employees, (2) expand the categories of family members an employee may use paid sick leave to care for, (3) expand the permitted purposes that an employee may use paid sick leave for, (4) modify the rate at which an employee may receive paid sick leave, and (5) make other conforming and clarifying changes.” 

All three bills often — referred to as “concept bills” or “placeholders,” where all the details are yet to come — are all too common in Connecticut. They are an affront to good governance and transparency. Job creators thrive on predictability, yet they’re prevented from planning for or understanding the implications of bills that present a financial threat to them. 

Regardless of the iteration that moves forward, the policy will have a pernicious effect on small and medium-sized business. Similar bills from last session tell us what we can expect as this legislation develops. H.B. 5166 sought to expand the universe of those for whom employees could take paid time off — extending the definition all the way to anyone a worker determined through “affinity, whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of any … family relationship.” 

The potential for abuse is limitless. Review of numerous state and municipal union contracts found the redefinition of “family” in this proposed law extends beyond even the most generous collective bargaining terms for sick leave use in most (if not all) municipal and state contracts. 

Similarly, last session’s S.B. 6668 dictated that employers with a workforce of 11 or more provide 40 hours of paid leave. The bill mandated 40 hours of unpaid leave for job creators with 10 or fewer workers. The Governor’s former recommended bill created additional administrative processes that permitted the Labor Commissioner to hold administrative hearings and levy fines. 

The bills imposed additional administrative requirements on employers and even eliminated exceptions for nonprofits and manufacturing. The legislation went as far to dictate benefits for part-time workers who work 30 hours per week — allowing employees to accumulate 1 hour of leave per every 30 hours worked. Lacking from all the bills was any language to address fraud or abuse of leave. 

These past bills from the Governor’s office and the Labor Committee were completely one-sided and there’s no reason to expect anything different this session. Rather than focusing on good governance, the general assembly is acting as an unpaid arm of the union — but adding the coercive power of the state. 

Private negotiations allow workers and job creators alike to work out mutually agreeable solutions to their issues. By contrast, through these bills, state government is imposing mandates without benefit of specialized knowledge or experience, acting as employees’ partisans without regard for the needs of the Connecticut economy or small business. 

None of the past or present bills account for the financial situations of small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom struggled mightily through the pandemic and are resisting passing on the inflationary costs they confront as they attempt simply to keep their doors open. It’s easy to pass legislation, blissfully unaware of the costs that mandated sick days will impose on business — which, in turn, are likely to be passed on both to consumers in the form of higher prices and to employees in the form of reduced benefits or wages. 

Employers who want to reward their employees with additional time off are already free to do so. But imposing a legislative mandate improperly puts government’s thumb on the scale in the relationship between employees and job creators.

What’s more, these bills presume an employee prefers one specific type of benefit to any other — for example, more sick leave to more take-home pay. Isn’t it possible that many people would prefer higher salaries over added benefits? Shouldn’t the state allow a worker to make these decisions for him- or herself? 

Businesses will always increase incentives, pay and benefits to attract and retain talented employees, but these decisions must (and should) be based what employees want and what job creators can afford, not on command-and-control legislative edicts. Otherwise, unintended consequences can include laid off workers, resulting from businesses incurring expenses they simply cannot recoup, reduced economic growth, and erosion of the state’s tax base. 

Other unintended negative economic consequences can include reduced investment and decreased competitiveness. Certainly, expensive draconian mandates will certainly deter any new small companies from deciding to locate in Connecticut. 

For our state to flourish, small and medium-sized businesses must be able to prosper and compete with the big chains that can better absorb such expensive new regulations. And politicians must understand that interfering in the job creator-worker relationship with “feel good” legislation can come at a steep price — for employers, employees, and the state itself.

Frank Ricci

Frank was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano and has testified before Congress. He has lectured at the Reagan Library and has been a lead consultant on several studies for the Yale School of Medicine. Frank has appeared on Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Cavuto Live, Hardball, NBC Nightly News, Fox & Friends, and other notable news shows. He is a contributing author to several books and a contributor to the Daily Caller. Frank retired as a Battalion Chief & Union President for New Haven Fire Fighters and has been awarded numerous commendations including the medal of valor. He serves on the advisory board for Fire Engineering Magazine. Frank lives with his wife in Wallingford, CT.

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