Colorado’s Paid Leave Proposal is Well-Intentioned but Bad for Workers and Business

By April 23, 2019General

Manufacturers know that paid leave is a powerful tool for attracting and retaining talented employees. That is why the National Association of Manufacturers supports paid leave programs created by employers and employees that fit the needs of the workplace—rather than broadly imposed programs that do more to create compliance burdens than provide workers with more generous leave. Manufacturers differ widely in terms of the benefits they can offer their workforce, and one-size-fits-all paid leave mandates are often more harmful than helpful to small businesses seeking cost effective ways to provide better benefits. One bill in Colorado, SB 188, is a perfect example of how a state mandated paid leave program can miss the mark.

Colorado’s legislature is currently debating a proposal that sounds like a paid version of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—the federal statute that provides 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for eligible employees for specified family and medical purposes—but is not. If enacted, it would create extreme new compliance burdens and confusion for Colorado manufacturers. Other states have debated and even adopted legislation that ties paid leave to FMLA—albeit far less than the 12 paid weeks contemplated in Colorado. Those states, however, tied their paid leave funds to pre-existing disability leave or other programs. SB 188, in comparison, creates a brand-new system that not only levies a new tax on employers and employees, but also differs vastly from FMLA requirements in important ways. For example, SB 188 would apply to a business with as few as one to four employees—the size of a majority of manufacturing establishments—when Congress recognized that even providing unpaid leave for such a business through FMLA might be unduly burdensome. SB 188 imposes a financial and practical burden that hits small manufacturers the hardest.

Despite Colorado lawmakers’ good intentions, a blanket mandate that does not fit with existing workplace paid leave policies, that clashes with federal law and that creates heavy financial burdens on workers and small manufacturers is not the answer. Manufacturers already face an increasingly confusing patchwork of state and local workplace regulations. States should focus on eliminating obstacles that stand in the way of employers that want to provide more generous paid leave policies. SB 188, and other bills like it across the country, simply make the problem worse.

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