Chamber Opposes Paid Sick Bill, Seeks 120-Day Minimum Clause

OCEAN CITY — After being narrowly defeated at the 11th hour last year, a bill requiring businesses in Maryland to provide paid sick leave to most employees has returned largely intact this year, but the local business community is again rallying the troops in opposition.

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, cross-filed in both the House and Senate, would require a business with over 14 employees to provide a policy under which an employee earns at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works at the same pay rate which he or she normally earns. A similar bill made it out of the House last year but died before a vote by the entire Senate, but it’s back again this year largely in the same form.

The bill last year was fiercely opposed by the local business community because its one-size-fits-all approach was too restrictive and too onerous did not take into account the seasonal nature of the resort. Under the bill’s language, employees who work just 90 days would begin accruing paid sick leave time, which would include most seasonal workers in Ocean City, for example.

There was an attempt to increase that threshold to 120 days last year, which would put most seasonal workers outside the required mandate, but that measure did not pass muster in the House or Senate version. The bill is back in the General Assembly this year with the 90-day threshold still intact and the local business community is again making its opposition known.

The Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce last week submitted written testimony again opposing the paid sick leave bill, pointing out its potentially severe impact on seasonal economies such as the resort.

“This bill is extremely harmful to business and is basically an unfunded mandate that would require businesses to provide paid leave for employees,” the chamber’s testimony reads. “Small businesses cannot afford these types of mandated benefits.”

The bill also provides paid sick leave to part-time and seasonal employees working at a minimum of eight hours per week.

“Ocean City businesses employee upwards of 12,000 season employees,” the chamber’s testimony reads. “Further, most regional businesses make their annual profits over a small, three-month window and incorporating this mandate would be very costly and affect the employer’s ability to operate. Paid sick leave is another unnecessary and expensive burden for small businesses.”

While the economy is showing signs of recovery, many small businesses in the resort and around the state are still struggling to make ends meet and the proposed Maryland Healthy Working Families Act would only add to the burden, according to the Chamber’s testimony submitted last week.

“Many businesses are still struggling and now is not the time to be burdening our businesses with more costly and unnecessary measures,” the testimony reads. “We need the legislature to look for ways to ease the burden. This is a critically important policy that may have a significant financial impact to many of the businesses in the greater Ocean City area that employ seasonal workers and consist of multiple locations.”

While few disagree with the intent of the legislation, the Ocean City area’s chamber believes its mandates are too restrictive and potentially too costly for most resort businesses.

“We are, as well, sensitive to the needs and requirements of many Maryland business constituencies regarding their capacity to implement a fair and reasonable mandated sick-leave policy and, therefore, acknowledge that a ‘one size fits all’ legislative solution may be impractical and we would suggest flexibility as this policy is applied statewide,” the testimony reads.

To that end, the chamber offered a handful of suggestions on how the legislation could be tailored for unique business communities such as the resort. For example, the chamber suggests a seasonal employment clause wherein a paid sick leave policy would only be applicable to employees who work more than 120 days annually or accrue time after the initial 90 days of employment.

The chamber’s testimony also suggests an attempt to address the size of the businesses on which the paid sick leave mandate should be applied. For example, the chamber suggests a mandated sick leave policy should be applied to businesses with 50 or more employees working more than 30 hours instead of the 14 employees prescribed by the legislation. In addition, businesses with multiple locations should have an employee count apply to each location and not the total number of employees at all locations.

“We genuinely believe that these implemented recommendations will result in a much fairer policy for the business community, many of which already offer outstanding benefits and leave for their valued employees,” the testimony reads. “However, in its current form, we respectfully are opposing this bill.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.