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Mandatory sick leave bill progresses

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Some business representatives have characterized bill as burdensome

A state bill that would require all private employers in New Mexico to provide paid sick leave to their employees has passed another legislative committee after the latest amendment that delays the implementation date until July 2022 and allows employers to use similar amounts of existing paid time off benefits to meet the sick leave requirements.

District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the governor’s office requested the implementation delay from 2021-22 to address employers’ concerns about paying for the leave during the current coronavirus emergency and its economic hardships.

“In essence, it is a compromise,” Chandler said Tuesday during a Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee meeting. “We are very anxious to see a sick leave bill enacted and signed this year as quickly as we can.”

She also characterized mandatory sick leave as a “small ask” that is “long overdue” and already provided by 12 other U.S. states and 150 countries.

The committee passed House Bill 20, the Healthy Workplaces Act, by a vote of 5-3, along with the new amendment, although many people representing employers continue to oppose the bill.

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The legislation is now expected to be considered by the Senate Tax and Business Committee. Previously two House committees approved it with changes, and the entire House of Representatives passed it 36-33 on Feb. 28.

HB 20 would require employers to provide at least 64 hours of paid sick leave each year to full time, part time, temporary and seasonal employees, with one hour accrued for each 30 hours worked. Accrual would start upon employment, and paid leave would be available after 60 days.

Sick leave could be used for physical, mental or abuse care for employees or their family members, as well as for appointments for preventative care. The bill also would require employers to provide additional paid sick leave hours if a public health emergency is declared in their geographic area.

With the new amendment, employers who offer similar amounts of paid time off (PTO) policies could offer those to meet the sick leave requirements.

Employers would be prohibited from retaliating against employees who take paid time off for their own needs or for those of family members, or taking punitive actions against those involved in investigations or proceedings about employer compliance. Enforcement would occur by a division of the New Mexico Workforce Solutions Department.

The bill is supported by many employees and those who represent them who say that such a bill is necessary to protect public health. They say it will allow sick employees to stay home rather than report to work and possibly put others at risk. They also say it will improve the ability of people to seek preventative care and will provide more economic stability for workers.

Some supporters on the committee also said the state could offset costs for employers through tax deductions or other mechanisms, especially if New Mexico receives additional coronavirus relief funding from the federal government, as expected.

The bill has been opposed by several groups representing businesses and employers, including the Dairy Farmers of New Mexico, the National Federation of Business, the New Mexico Hospitality Association, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

Some in opposition said they favor some type of paid sick leave legislation, but not this bill, which they characterized as “overly burdensome on employers” and criticized it for not offering an exemption for employers with 50 or fewer employers.

“If you really want to take care of employees — as we all do — consider the fact that this burden on employers, especially your smaller ones, is going to cause them to cut hours and cut jobs, and that does not help the workers,” said Carla Sontag of the New Mexico Business Coalition.

The senators who voted against the bill Tuesday expressed several concerns, including that it doesn’t clarify what would be required of staffing agencies; it would require employers to allow employees to take paid leave for non-emergency appointments, even if they work only a few days of the week and could access care on their days off. Other concerns are that it would allow employees to take off for small portions of the day if that is how their attendance is clocked, even if some employers need to be able to schedule employees for the entire day; and that it has broad definitions of who could be considered the “equivalent” of a family member.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.