All Minnesota workers would be eligible for paid sick and safe time under a bill House lawmakers approved Thursday that business advocates have criticized as an unnecessary mandate.
House Democrats have passed similar bills several times before only to see them stall in the previously Republican-led Senate. Now that Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members have a one-seat Senate majority, and still control the House, they are confident the measure will become law.
If it does, 900,000 Minnesotans who currently don’t get sick- or safe-time leave where they work would become eligible for the benefit. The House advanced the bill just before midnight Thursday with a 69-54 vote, it still needs to be debated in the Senate.
Under the legislation, employees would earn one hour of sick and safe time for every 30 hours they work up to 48 hours annually. Part-time, seasonal and temporary workers are all be eligible, but workers wouldn’t be able to take earned time with them if they switch jobs.
“When we get sick, workers should have the basic right to stay home for the sake of their own health and well-being or that of a child who may be ill or if they need support following an act of violence or trauma,” said Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, the chief sponsor of the bill.
Mandate or flexibility?
Business advocates have said mandating sick and safe time would be costly and cause compliance headaches. They argue it will take away important flexibility, especially for small-business owners.
“Why are we making this a one-size fits all,” Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, asked while discussing a proposal to allow local governments to modify the requirements. His amendment and several other attempts by Republicans to modify the bill were voted down.
GOP House lawmakers also tried to eliminate what they said are exorbitant fines for failing to comply with some of the trivial provisions of the law.
“This bill, I think we are going to see businesses closing across our state,” Nash said later in the debate. “The fiscal implications of forcing them to do something is profound.”
The state Department of Labor and Industry would have oversight of the program. The cities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Bloomington and Duluth as well as 16 other states require employers to provide paid sick and safe time.
After the House approved the bill, Laura Bordelon, of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said businesses already offer “numerous benefits promoting wellness, flexible work schedules, tuition assistance” and more.
Instead of considering those benefits, Bordelon said “this bill imposes a new paid sick and safe time mandate on every employer in the state, regardless of size, adding to the patchwork of laws already in place.”
Nancy Florence, a nurse from Plymouth with 50 years experience, joined Rep. Olson Thursday before the House floor debate, to say sick and safe time was essential for public health and would “echo” through a community.
“None of us should worry about losing our job if we need a sick day,” Florence said. “My ability to take sick and safe time impacts the health of my loved ones and their financial well-being as well as my colleagues loved ones and their financial well-being.”