Robbie Short

As Connecticut looks to implement legislation that offers paid family and medical leave, nonprofits and small businesses are objecting to the way that may take shape.

On Feb. 20, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee approved a pair of bills that would push Connecticut towards implementing a statewide paid Family and Medical Leave Program. The proposed legislation would give employees the financial security to care for their families or take off time for medical problems. But some officials have expressed concern regarding the mandate’s economic impact — particularly on small businesses.

“Many people in the state are living paycheck to paycheck, and will be asking their employers why they’re all of a sudden earning significantly less,” said Eric Gjede, vice president for government affairs with the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

The bills would give private sector and some state government employees up to three months of fully paid annual leave for their own or extended family members’ illnesses or after the birth or adoption of a child. The proposed program would be mandatory for all employers, and would be subsidized by an automatic payroll tax of 0.5 percent that would come out of employees’ after-tax salaries.

Gjede stressed that the state needs to cover a significant portion of wages that employees will earn while on leave, as small businesses are unable to cover the 12 weeks of full income that the bills are promising. 

According to Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven-based nonprofit organization, 33,000 children in the state live in a household where neither parent resides, and 51,000 children live with cohabiting, unmarried partners. The proposed bills would ensure the financial protection of households which rely on extended family, neighbors or other caretakers to care for their children.

Just under four percent of people in Connecticut identify as LGBTQ, and 20 percent of those people are raising children — according to GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, a nonprofit legal rights organization that operates throughout New England. The organization recently testified in support of the proposed legislation, noting that members of Connecticut’s LGBTQ community face food insecurity at a higher rate than the non-LGBTQ population — 22 percent versus 13 percent.

But Gjede expressed concern that the bill potentially disincentivizes people from working. He said that while it is important for the state to provide a safety net for people, offering a 100 percent wage-replacement rate will encourage people to take their allotted 12 weeks every year — a burden small businesses may not be able to afford.

According to the Associated Press, more than 40 business organizations throughout the state have submitted a letter to lawmakers opposing the leave mandate.

The Connecticut arm of the National Federation of Independent Businesses expressed its opposition to both bills in a press release last month.

“It’s possible a larger corporation or firms with many employees can fill the void, especially when a couple of people take leave at the same time, but this will become an impossible circumstance for most small businesses,” Andrew Markowski, state director for the NFIB in Connecticut, said in the release.

The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization which represents nonprofits, is another of several groups that have testified against the bill.

Jeff Shaw, senior director of public policy & advocacy for the alliance, wrote an appeal to the Labor and Public Employees Committee last month, asking for the committee to make adjustments to the bills’ policies to protect the sustainability of charitable organizations operating throughout the state.

In an interview with the News, Shaw applauded the intent of the bills, but emphasized the need for the state to provide nonprofits with funding support for providing family leave.

“At the end of the day, nonprofits want to provide employees with the best possible benefits and help our employees stay happy and healthy,” Shaw told the News. “But there are increased employer cost[s]towards hiring temporary employees and filling vacancies, and right now the state isn’t accounting for the impact these costs will have on nonprofits.”

Shaw, who said that funding cuts have hurt te nonprofit industry over the last few years, wants the state to help nonprofits be on a “level playing field” with other businesses and remain an attractive employment option for people who are looking to benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Though it is still unclear what reforms the proposed bills will adopt, Gjede said the bill will be up for a full vote in the General Assembly in the upcoming weeks.

On Feb. 20, Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 also released his own paid Family and Medical Leave Program proposal, outlined in another bill in the senate. His proposal calls for policies that slightly differ from the two bills the Labor and Public Employees Committee recently approved. Lamont’s proposal will require a public hearing before the General Assembly can formally consider it along with the other two bills. If the other two bills pass the assembly, Lamont’s signature would be required for them to become law.

If the bills pass, Connecticut will join Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Washington, New York and New Jersey in offering paid family leave. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are also in the process of considering family leave legislation.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu