Chamber Witness Warns Against Sick Leave Expansion

H.R. 2339 and H.R. 2460 would ensure paid sick leave for many workers to care for a new infant or a newly adopted child.

Today's U.S. House Education and Labor Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing about expanding American workers' access to paid sick leave included testimony warning the proposed changes will be an injust burden on small businesses and an open invitation to litigation. Victoria A. Lipnic, a witness representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and assistant secretary of Labor for Employment Standards during the last administration, was responsible there for administering and enforcing the Family and Medical Leave Act. The hearing examined two bills that would expand workers' access to paid family and sick leave to care for a new infant and newly adopted child.

H.R. 2339, the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions Act, would give grants to the states to improve their paid family leave programs. H.R. 2460, the Healthy Families Act, would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven days of paid sick days to their employees.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., is the sponsor of H.R. 2339 and a firm supporter of expanding paid family leave; she voted earlier this month to pass the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would ensure four weeks of paid leave to federal employees for the birth or adoption of a child.

Lipnic said a BLS survey published in February 2009 found 83 percent of workers in private industry have access to illness leave. The Healthy Families Act "provides extraordinarily broad and not entirely consistent definitions for the medical conditions that are covered," and it applies to a much broader group of employers than FMLA does, she said in her prepared statement.

Other witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing included Rajiv Bhatia, director of Occupational and Environmental Health in San Francisco's Department of Public Health; Deborah Frett, CEO of the BPW Foundation in Washington, D.C.; Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women (also in Washington); and Sandra Poole, deputy director of the California Employment Development Department's Disability Insurance Branch.

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