Paid sick leave bills considered

Programs giving employees paid leave from work would be created under two bills heard by the Business and Labor Committee Feb. 24.

LB955, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would adopt the Paid Family Medical Leave Act, which would provide income for employees if they must leave work to care for family members who are incapable of caring for themselves. The bill would provide eligible employees up to six consecutive workweeks or up to 42 nonconsecutive days per year of paid leave.

The paid leave would be provided by the Paid Family Medical Leave Fund, which would consist of employee contributions collected as payroll deductions and remitted to the state treasurer. The state Commissioner of Labor would manage the fund.

Dubas said the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee workers paid leave. This creates economic challenges for workers who are torn between taking care of their family or maintaining a career, she said.

“If families are required to use up all of their vacation, personal and sick days to stay at home with their newborns,” Dubas said, “what happens if they need that time later?”

The workforce is changing, Dubas said. Half of all workers are women, she said, and two-thirds of working mothers are the primary wage earners for families. Many workers earn only minimum wage, however, and cannot afford lengthy, unpaid absences from work, she said.

“Paid family leave allows families to be caregivers as well as breadwinners,” Dubas said. “The reality is we need to bring our thinking about families out of the 1950s and recognize the need for flexibility in the workforce.”

LB1090, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would require certain employers to provide full-time employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours in a calendar year, unless the employer selects higher amounts.

The bill would not apply to domestic servants, farm workers or minors employed by their parents.

Conrad said she brought the bill because almost half of working Nebraskans do not have paid sick leave. Without that benefit, she said, workers don’t seek medical care and go to work sick, which spreads and prolongs illness resulting in weakened businesses.

“Providing a basic level of paid sick leave is a critical work support for Nebraska working families,” Conrad said.

Rodney Vlcek of the Nebraska AFL-CIO testified in support of both bills. He said LB955 is important because it would give employees security during unpredictable leaves of absence.

“This bill … would allow Nebraskan working families the flexibility to put their loved ones first,” he said.

Further, he said, LB1090 would be good for employers because it keeps sick employees out of the workplace.

“For businesses, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce,” Vlcek said.

Molly McCleery of Nebraska Appleseed also testified in support of both bills.

“Nebraska workers shouldn’t have to choose between financial stability and caring for themselves or their loved ones,” she said.

Robert Hallstrom of the National Federation of Independent Business testified in opposition to both bills, saying they would create problems for businesses that need to keep positions filled during employees’ extended absences.

Harvey Sankey of Printing Industry Midwest also testified in opposition to the bills. LB955 is a payroll tax employees can’t afford, he said, and LB1090 would be a burden to businesses because employers should be allowed to offer paid sick leave at their own discretion.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

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