By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Business and labor interests are mobilizing on opposite sides of bills pending in the Legislature that would mandate paid leave for employees who are sick, victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
If either bill becomes law, all people who work a certain minimum number of hours per year in Hawaii would be granted "the right to sick and safe leave."
Both, by coincidence, are scheduled for committee hearings Thursday in their respective chambers.
House Bill 2089 would apply to virtually every worker in the state of Hawaii who works more than 80 hours in a year.
Those employees will accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 72 hours.
In other words, a full-time worker could accrue up to nine days of paid leave per year.
For small business, defined as a company with 10 employees or less, a maximum of 40 hours leave may be accrued.
The similar Senate Bill 2507 does not include specifics of how many hours would be accrued. Both bills are set to become law July 1 if approved.
While the idea of sick leave is well-known, less so is the notion of safe leave. The bill states that safe leave would be granted for an absence due to the need to recover from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
This leave would also cover time used to seek help from a victim services organization, to undergo psychological counseling, relocation or legal action.
The bill also expands the definition of sick leave to cover absences by an employee to care for a family member due to a medical condition.
It would also cover absences due to a closure of a workplace due to a public health emergency, either at the employee's place of business, or at the school of an employee's child.
The Senate bill as introduced does not specify how many hours a person has to work to accrue a minimum one hour of paid sick and safe leave.
If a House committee hearing on Jan. 31 is any indication, the "sick and safe leave" bills are supported by public labor unions and women's rights organizations, and opposed by the local chambers of commerce.
Calls to four state senators regarding comment on the Senate bill were not returned Tuesday. An aide for the author of the bill, Sen. Clayton Hee, said he could not respond by deadline Tuesday and Sen. Mike Gabbard said he would defer to Hee for comments. The other senators contacted were Les Ihara and Maile Shimabukuro.
But Vaughan Cook, president-elect of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, related his organization's concerns to the Tribune-Herald.
"We don't oppose people taking sick leave," Cook said. What the chamber opposes is the possibility of unanticipated consequences that arise as the result of either bill becoming law.
"We have over 500 members serving in the chamber, and we consider ourselves the voice of business on the island," he said.
In Hawaii, many businesses already provide for paid sick leave, even though it is not mandated by any law, Cook said. He's concerned that by setting a minimum amount of sick leave, companies with more generous paid leave may be tempted to decrease the amount of leave they offer to the minimum allowed by law.
"People want to give, and I think businesses are already giving," he said. He's concerned that government is overstepping its boundaries and intruding in an area best left to the free market, thereby driving up costs for consumers.
A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best way to handle this, Cook said.
The Hawaii State AFL-CIO disagrees. In testimony sent to the House Committee on Labor and Public Employment on Jan. 31, union president Randy Perreira wrote that paid sick days are "vastly popular, beneficial to the health and well-being of the general public, co-workers and school children. It is also the right thing to do."
SB 2507 will be heard Thursday in the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, while HB 2089 will be heard in the House Economic Revitalization and Business Committee.
On the Internet: http://capitol.hawaii.gov
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.