Senate panel OKs revised bill requiring paid sick days

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Senate Labor Committee approved a bill Wednesday requiring some employers to offer paid sick days to their workers, minutes after a revised version limiting its scope was released.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Providence Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, would initially have required all businesses in Rhode Island to allow their employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.

The revised version, approved by the committee on a 7-1 vote, would allow workers to accrue sick time at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, for a maximum of four sick days in 2018 and five sick days every year after that. The rule would only apply to employers with 11 or more workers. Small business with fewer than 11 employees would be required to provide unpaid sick days.

Under the bill, the benefit would apply to both full and part-time employees, although part-timers would accrue at a slower pace. Employees would start accruing sick time after being employed for 90 days. Temporary employees would have to wait 180 days to begin earning sick time and seasonal workers would need to wait 120 days.

The push for sick days is supported by groups like Rhode Island Working Families, unions and AARP. But business groups have expressed concern about the cost to employers.

“We believe there are some positive changes in it,” John Simmons from the Rhode Island Business Coalition said after the vote. He said his group would need to review the new bill further to see if it’s fair to employers.

Simmons said employers would prefer not to have mandated sick leave at all, but are trying to at least make the legislation more equitable. He said 80% of Rhode Island employers already provide paid leave, but certain industries like hospitality would struggle with this mandate.

“If that person doesn’t show up and is paid…they have to pay that person and pay the person that fills the shift,” Simmons said.

Georgia Hollister Isman with Rhode Island Working Families applauded the committee vote. Her group fought for seven sick days, but she said the compromise is a good first step.

“It’s certainly better than nothing,” she said. Hollister Isman also said the provision banning employers from retaliating against employees who take sick leave is crucial.

“People right now can lose their jobs for not coming in when they have the flu,” she said. “That’s a huge problem.”

Massachusetts and Connecticut are among other states that mandate paid sick leave. The compromise in Rhode Island was loosely based on the Massachusetts law.

The heated debate about the bill has even sparked a Rhode Island State Police investigation.

State police confirmed they investigated a threatening email sent to Goodwin about her legislation, but don’t plan on pressing charges.

The email provided to Eyewitness News came from a local businessman who has spoken out against paid sick leave in the past. The email said in part, “Well listen up…The more you meddle with the hand that feeds you, the more you risk getting bit. We are [expletive] fed up and are extremely close to violent opposition.”

The email was first reported by the Providence Journal.

“It was full of vulgarities which is okay, that’s the constitutional right of freedom of speech,” Sen. Goodwin said Wednesday. “But the ending was a little concerning to me, where he ended by saying he is extremely close to violence. And in this day and age I just can’t imagine why anyone would say that.”

Goodwin said she did think of last week’s shooting of a congressman in Virginia when she read the email.

The business owner whose email address was used for the message did not responds to requests for comment from Eyewitness News, but told the Journal his account may have been hacked.