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Paid Sick Leave Law Causing Problems For Municipalities


April 06, 2012

When state legislators debated last year whether to require paid sick leave for certain workers, most of the arguments focused on how it would affect businesses.

Mostly lost in the conversation was how paid sick leave law would affect municipalities.

The new law, aimed primarily at businesses, has been called a "messy administrative burden" that's left many municipal officials confused.

The new law ensures that certain service workers get paid sick time. It also applies to municipal governments.

The law requires employers of 50 or more workers to give service workers paid sick time. For cities and towns, service workers could mean administrative assistants, school crossing guards and even summer camp counselors.

The first step for cities and towns, such as West Hartford, was to compare job descriptions against the U.S. Department of Labor's classification system to see who qualifies as a service worker under the law a tedious task. Then the municipality must figure out which employees don't already qualify for sick time under existing rules.

Those employees who now qualify began accruing paid sick time at the rate of one hour per 40-hour workweek starting Jan. 1. They can accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.

Before employees can use their sick time, they must work at least 680 hours. The accounting for time worked must include all time worked by an employee, regardless of whether there is a lapse in service. Employees must also work an average of 10 hours or more per week during the most recent complete calendar quarter.

Keeping track of who earns sick time, and how much, is a time-consuming task, and in West Hartford, the payroll system can't deal with those kinds of statistics, said Patricia Morowsky, the town's personnel director.

Most cities and towns are still trying to determine the impact of the new paid sick time law. Bristol's assistant personnel director, Linda Milia, said that her town accrues sick time in a different way from what the law requires. The city is still trying to iron out the discrepancy, she said.

New Britain is also still trying to determine the effects of the new law, said Phil Sherwood, an aide to Mayor Tim O'Brien.

"Mayor O'Brien is very supportive of anything that encourages a healthy workforce," Sherwood said, adding that O'Brien, a former state legislator, supported the bill establishing mandatory paid sick time.

In Middletown, Kathleen Morey, deputy director of personnel, said that city has already granted two part-time employees paid sick time equivalent to one week each.

The law affects school systems significantly because schools have more part-time workers, Morey said.

Another challenge for towns and cities is explaining the new law and its nuances to workers, Morowsky said. Some workers will be eligible for the benefit, while others like pool lifeguards will not be because of their job classification, she said, explaining that the town used the U.S. Department of Labor's classification system as a guide to determine who was eligible.

"How do you communicate that to employees?" she said.

And then there's the cost to taxpayers.

In some cases, towns will have to pay both the wages for a worker who is out sick and the wages for a substitute, said West Hartford Town Manager Ronald Van Winkle. Some jobs can't be left vacant even for one day, he said.

Requiring paid sick leave will cost cities and towns money during already difficult financial times, said the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which represents cities and towns. The organization has regularly opposed paid sick leave proposals, including the version that was passed last year.

"While CCM is sympathetic to the intent of this new law, it is problematic as it still imposes a new, unfunded state mandate on all towns and cities in a recession era when municipal resources are already extremely limited," said Kevin Maloney, CCM's spokesman. " Struggling with the administration of unprecedented, new state mandates such as the paid sick leave law, absent any funding to implement it, only exasperates local budgetary problems."

Businesses are also dealing with the implementation of the new state law, said Mark Soycher, human resource services counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

The new law has caused some companies to cut back on some benefits and revise administrative practices that were in conflict with the law, such as incentive programs, he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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