Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ohio introduces paid-sick-leave legislation

sick daysThere is little argument that the U.S. lags behind the rest of the civilized world on paid sick leave. As the federal government has failed to act on this issue for all but a small minority of federal-contractor employees, the state and local governments have started to pick up the slack.

Now, Ohio is considering getting in the game. H.B. 511—the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Benefits Act [pdf]—would, in essence, create state-administered short-term disability insurance for employees who need time off for an FMLA-covered reason.

The bill would:

  • Create the family and medical leave insurance program, to be administered and enforced by the Director of Jobs and Family Services.

  • Apply to any employee who has worked for the employer for at least 680 hours in four of the prior five completed calendar quarters.

  • Enable an employee to receive family and medical leave insurance benefits for any reason for which an employee would otherwise qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA.

  • Vest the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services with the responsibility of processing and administering employee claims for paid sick leave, including hearing appeals over denied claims.

  • Enact a sliding scale of benefits based on income level, from 95 percent of one’s average weekly wage for the lowest wage earners up to 66 percent for the highest.

  • For FMLA-eligible employees, run Ohio paid leave concurrently with federal unpaid leave.

  • Prohibit retaliation against any employee who files a claim, communicates an intent to file a claim, or testifies or assists in any proceeding.

  • Create a private cause of action for any aggrieved employee, with damages limited to lost wages and other actual monetary losses, interest, equitable relief, and liquidated damages equal to any award of lost wages and monetary losses.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Michael Ashford, makes a common-sense appeal for its passage:

What this basically does is send a very powerful message to companies’ quality employees that they value what you do and what you bring to their company. It’s a bill that’s very good in a sense that it will save employers a lot of money because they will be able to retain employees that they really value and keep them on the payroll. And it doesn’t come out of their pocket; it’s a program that would be paid by employee premiums and it would be withheld from their wages, or employers would have the option of paying the premium. It’s a low-cost insurance program and the premium ranges anywhere from $30 to $50 a year, so it’s very affordable.

Let’s get real. Ohio has a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican Governor, and this bill has zero Republican sponsors, all of which adds up to a zero percent chance that H.B. 511 will become law. Nevertheless, this discussion is a good one to have, because there is no doubt that paid family leave is a problem that this country needs to address. The longer the private sector delays in addressing this problem (and it is a real problem) on its own, the greater likelihood that governments will enact laws like H.B. 511.