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Rhode Island's proposed Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act would require private employers in the state to give workers up to 56 hours of paid sick leave each year. If enacted, this legislation would hurt employers' ability to remain competitive with their New England neighbors, according to the Rhode Island chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Although a number of cities have paid-sick-leave ordinances, only seven states have passed such laws. If the Rhode Island bill passes, the state would join only California in implementing both statewide paid family leave and paid sick time.
[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop and Administer Paid Leave Programs]
"Rhode Island has some of the most onerous labor and employment laws for employers in the United States," said Cindy Butler, president of Butler & Associates Human Resources Consulting in Jamestown, R.I. "Additional employer mandates would only increase the costs of doing business in Rhode Island."
According to the bill's text, more than 40 percent of private-sector employees in Rhode Island don't have paid-sick-time benefits. The bill would "end the practice of forcing family caregivers to choose between caring for loved ones and economic security," said John DiTomasso, associate state director of the Rhode Island AARP, in a statement submitted to the state House of Representatives Labor Committee.
Testifying on behalf of Rhode Island SHRM before the labor committee, Butler said a blanket policy would harm Rhode Island businesses. Paid-time-off programs should accommodate varying work environments, industries and organizational sizes, while fostering innovation and a competitive economy, she said. "SHRM's membership knows that compensation and benefits packages and workplace flexibility policies must be tailored to the unique needs of the organization and its employees, not dictated by government through a one-size-fits-all employer mandate."
Terms and Penalties
Under the bill, employees in the state would accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick and "safe" leave for every 30 hours worked—up to 56 hours per year.
The time would begin accruing at the start of employment, and workers would be able to start using accrued leave after 90 calendar days.
Employees could use the time for their own or for a family member's injury or illness, medical diagnosis, or preventative care. The paid leave could also be used as "safe time" for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking.
Additionally, the leave could be used when an employee's place of business or a child's school is closed due to a public health emergency or in some circumstances when the employee or a family member poses a threat of exposure to a communicable disease.
Employers should note that the bill would impose accrual-tracking, notice, posting and record-keeping requirements. And violations could result in steep fines: $500 to $3,000 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for each additional offense.
"Legislative mandates serve to flatten the market and reduce competition—rather than encourage innovation and creative methods for each employer to attract and retain the types of employees suited for their type of organization and industry," Butler said.
"It just makes sense that offering a solid benefits program makes it easier for organizations to achieve this, rather than penalizing a company with a fine up to $5,000 for noncompliance, which this bill would do."
SHRM encourages, supports and expects employers to offer paid time off to their employees. But this legislation would be harmful—particularly to small businesses—because it would be imposed on all employers regardless of size and industry, Butler testified.
Rhode Island SHRM urged the state legislature to work with the business community to craft a solution that meets the needs of employees while also being cognizant of the impact that mandatory paid sick leave would have on employers in the state and their ability to remain competitive.
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