Burlington County Times

Paid Sick Leave Bill Advances From Assembly Budget Committee

Burlington County Times — Tuesday, December 16, 2014

By David Levinsky
Staff writer

TRENTON — Legislation to require all employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers took another step forward this week as the Assembly Budget Committee approved it for a floor vote by the full Assembly.

The committee voted 6-4 with one abstention Monday to release the bill, which would mandate that all public and private sector employees accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours of work.

Earned time could be used by employees to recover or receive treatment from a mental or physical illness or injury, as well as care for a family member. Employers with more than 10 workers would be permitted to cap the amount of sick time at 72 hours. Those with fewer than 10 workers could cap the amount at 40 hours.

Supporters, including union and worker advocacy groups, claim that more than 1 million New Jersey workers aren't able to take paid sick leave and are forced to choose between their job and caring for either themselves or a loved one.

"We need to allow people to earn the time. We need to allow people to take the time and take the time to care for their loved ones," Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-6th of Cherry Hill, said Monday during the committee hearing.

Although several cities have passed ordinances mandating earned sick leave within their jurisdictions, Lampitt, who sponsored the Assembly measure, said New Jersey would join California and Connecticut as the only states to create a law mandating sick leave for all employees.

"We're trying to move New Jersey and set the standard for what the rest of the nation should be doing," she said.

Dena Mottola Jaborska, of New Jersey Citizen Action, said the bill provides reasonable protections for workers and their families, particularly given the growing number of single-parent households and those in which both spouses must work.

"This is a policy whose time has come," Mottola Jaborska said. "We absolutely need this policy to help families balance their work-family responsibilities."

Opponents of the measure, notably business groups, claim it would create another burden on businesses in the state and would interfere with their existing sick policies.

"What you lose with this bill is the flexibility that employers have enjoyed to work with employees to make the sick leave work in a way that's compatible," said Alida Kass of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute.

Representatives of New Jersey tourism groups expressed concerns that the bill does not include an exemption for seasonal hires. Other advocates for businesses said it would create more costs.

"Do I think some employers will be able to absorb these costs? Sure. But many will not, especially when you consider this mandate comes on the heels of a minimum-wage increase, federal health care reform, and higher taxes in general," said Stefanie Riehl, of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "I have to stress that there are many businesses already at their breaking point."

The bill was voted out of committee, but with opposition from all four Republican members, as well as some reservations from several Democrats on the panel.

"I don't think this bill is remotely ready for the type of policy change that affects the state of New Jersey," said Assemblyman Joe Cryan, D-20th of Union.

"I don't think this is another tool in the toolbox. I think this is another straw on the camel's back. If we keep going the way we're going, our business climate can't get any worse," said Assemblyman Tony Bucco Jr., R-25th of Boonton.

Assemblyman Chris J. Brown, R-8th of Evesham, also voted against the measure. During the hearing, he was critical of an amendment that allows employers to allow workers to be paid for their unused sick time.

"How does that help out going forward?" Brown asked. "What happens when they cash out 100 percent and have no sick benefits left? How is that helping?"

The full Assembly is scheduled to meet Thursday, but the sick leave bill is not part of the list of measures expected to be posted for votes.

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