NC Democrats seek new state laws on paid family leave and paid sick time

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Democrats in the General Assembly Tuesday called for new laws to offer workers paid family leave and paid time off when they’re sick, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for those benefits for workers.

Caylea Jenkins, who works in the restaurant industry, described calling out sick as a “negotiation,” saying a manager may still expect her to work part of your shift despite being ill.

“You’ve touched countless surfaces, countless people’s plates, countless debit and credit cards,” she said. “No matter the standards of health and safety, a sick person is a sick person. And, they should not be in that close of an intimate environment.”

Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) is sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would allow employees of small businesses to accrue up to 32 hours of paid sick time. For businesses with more than 10 employees, it would be up to 56 hours.

People could take sick time to care for themselves, immediate family members as well as if they or their family members are victims of stalking or sexual or domestic violence.

“Now is the time. We can’t wait any longer. Now is the time to do this,” she said.

Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) said during the pandemic some workers have been unable to stay home for fear of missing a paycheck or losing their jobs altogether. She noted about 1.6 million workers in the state do not have access to paid sick time.

“It puts our communities at risk of further spread of disease and infection as well as depressing our economy through lost wages,” she said. “The repercussions of the system as it is now, this broken system that we are existing in, have never been more apparent.”

Rep. Graig Meyer is sponsoring a bill in the House to create a new paid family leave insurance program, which would fall under the authority of the Division of Employment Security.

As he explained, the system would function similar to unemployment insurance where both employees and employers would pay into it. The payments would add up to about $100 per year per employee, he said.

People could qualify to use it for a variety of reasons such as following the birth of a child or to care for a loved one dealing with a serious illness. People could qualify for 12 to 24 weeks of paid leave, Meyer said.

“Too many North Carolinian women must go right back to their jobs after having babies, which harms families and impedes baby’s health and development,” said Dr. Kimberly Montez, a pediatrician.

When asked about the bills, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said he hadn’t discussed them with Democratic leaders yet, but raised a variety of questions about them including what the financial impact would be on businesses.

He said he wanted to get some of those questions answered before taking a position.

“The pandemic has changed the way we address so many things. So, I can tell you this. Everything that we look at through our budget process, through policy, we’re taking into account all those things with respect to the pandemic,” Moore said.

Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, said in an email, “As with any proposal, we’ll take the legislation under consideration.”

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