A key legislative committee yesterday gave its approval to a bill which would mandate that certain employers give employees paid sick leave.  You can keep tabs on the bill status here

I’ve discussed the bill several times before and it appears that the basic structure of paid sick leave bill (H.B. 6187) has remained unchanged. The Judiciary Committee’s passage of the bill suggests that the measure may now go to the House floor for a vote in the next few weeks.

The measure would require businesses of 50 or more employees to grant workers one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours of work with a cap of 6.5 paid days per year.  You can find the text of the bill here

There are obviously valid arguments both for and against the bill. 

The CBIA, for example, has opposed the bill, contending that: it would make Connecticut the only state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave; increase labor costs significantly for any employer that currently provides anything less than the new sick-time mandate; block employers from crafting workplace personnel policies that best meet their employers’ needs; and, immediately make Connecticut businesses less competitive particularly in a recession.  

In today’s Hartford Courant, however, the director of Connecticut’s Working Families Party (one of the groups supporting the measure) appeared to add a new reason for supporting the bill: swine flu.  According to the Courant, Jon Green, director of the Connecticut Working Families, stated:

It’s an illustration why it’s particularly important, and in everybody’s interest, for employees to have some paid sick days….The advice given by the Centers for Disease Control … is that people who have symptoms should stay home.

But in a difficult economy, people can’t risk losing their jobs or even just a few days’ pay because they have an illness.

Whether intentional or not, using the swine flu outbreak as a rationale for passing this bill would be mistake.  If the swine flu outbreak turns more serious, it will be up to everyone (not just businesses) to be responsible enough not to spread illnesses.  Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to expect that during a flu pandemic many businesses will adopt short-term flexible work arrangements and telecommuting policies to keep the risks of affecting healthy workers to a minimum, thus eliminating the need for a mandatory paid sick leave bill. 

In addition, if the flu is serious enough, it may be a "serious health condition" entitling that employee to FMLA protection. 

Before the legislature passes the measure, it ought to consider and debate the long-term ramifications of paid sick leave on business and the economy, as well as overall public health.  History has shown that such outbreaks — even serious ones — come to an end.   

As I said before, there are some very valid reasons for passing the measure.  But using the swine flu outbreak to justify the measure isn’t one of them.