February 5, 2021

A combined paid sick leave bill advances from House committee

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A bill that would, if it becomes law, provide earned sick leave for employees in the state passed along party lines in the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The bill passed 5 to 3 with one Democrat absent during the vote.

The committee substitute for HB 20, known as the Healthy Workplace Act, was not available online as of Thursday night. Last week, two paid sick leave bills, HB 20 and HB 37 were both heard together in the same committee. At the end of a lengthy debate and considerable public testimony around the bill last week, committee chair Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, sent the sponsors of the two bills to roll them into one piece of legislation. He speculated the bills would not pass through the House Judiciary Committee otherwise.

Related: Two bills addressing paid sick leave will be rolled into one bill

Opponents to the bill argued that businesses could not afford to give their employees paid time off. House Rep. Louis Terrazas, R-Santa Clara, spoke at length about the bill, and said that a new business owner just starting out with one or two employees is in a “fragile” state.

House Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, said thousands of small business owners in his district would go out of business if the bill passes. House Rep. Rachel Black, R-Alamogordo, said passage of the bill would cost the state jobs.

But House Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Los Alamos, said the opposition to the bill “puzzled” her since it is a bill that “encourages people to not come into work sick.”

“It’s very short-sighted for businesses to not realize it hurts them when there’s a cycle of illness in their business. These are minimum standards,” she said.

Since the bill has an emergency clause, if the bill passes with two-thirds of the votes in each chamber, it would go into effect immediately.

The current bill, provided through an email by the House Democratic party to NM Political Report, states that employees shall accrue a minimum of one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The employees could earn up to 64 hours of earned sick leave within a 12-month period.

If there is unused accrued time, it can roll over to the next 12-month year period but an employer doesn’t have to allow an employee to take more than 64 hours in a 12-month period.

An employee would be eligible to take time off for a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; a medical diagnosis, care or treatment; for preventive medical care; for care of a family member, which is broadly defined; for school meetings or meetings at a facility that cares for a child’ health or disability; and for an absence necessary for domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking by employee of their family member. The time can also be used to obtain medical or psychological treatment or counseling; to relocate; to prepare for or participate in legal proceedings or to assist a family member with any of those concerns.

A family member can be a spouse or domestic partner, a relative or “an individual whose close association with the employee or the employee’s spouse or domestic partner is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

If the bill becomes law, an employee could file a complaint with the labor relations division of the state Department of Workforce Solutions if a company violates the law. But the employee couldalso seek civil action without filing a complaint.

If an employer does not compensate an employee for earned sick leave that was taken by an employee, the employer could owe three times the wages that should have been paid or $1,000, whichever is greater.

If an employer unlawfully denies an employee the ability to take accrued sick leave, the employer could owe the employee the amount equal to the damages or $1,000, whichever is greater.

The bill will go to the House Judiciary Committee next.