The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Baker, wants only those companies with 50 or more employees to be required to offer paid sick time to their workers, according to the “Alternative Paid Sick Leave Initiative” he issued Monday.
A ballot question in November will ask Massachusetts voters if employees at companies with 11 or more workers would be allowed to earn and use paid sick time if they miss work for a variety of reasons dealing with their health or the health of a loved one.
The ballot question calls for unpaid sick time for employees at smaller companies.
Baker suggests significantly increasing the number of workers required before a company must comply with the paid sick time requirement, “as businesses of this size tend to have real human resources capabilities,” said a statement from his campaign.
The former health care executive has said he plans to vote no on Question 4 because its restrictive, one-size-fits-all nature is not in the best interest of workers and businesses in the Commonwealth.
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“This is simply laying out Charlie’s vision for a more effective sick time proposal,” said Tim Buckley, his campaign spokesman. “He supports the idea of folks being able to go see a doctor or take care of family and not being penalized. This is a more flexible and small-business-friendly approach to doing that.”
There are few other significant differences when comparing Baker’s alternative to the ballot question.
Both call for allowing Massachusetts employees to earn sick time and use it to miss work if sick or caring for an ill child, parent, or spouse. Doctor’s appointments would be covered, as would the psychological, physical, or legal effects of domestic violence. Each proposal also says it would not override an equal or more generous contract or benefits plan offered by an employer.
Under the ballot initiative, employees working for companies with 11 or more workers would earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time in a year. People working for smaller companies could earn and use the same amount of unpaid time. Employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked and begin using that time after a 90-day probationary period.
Baker’s plan calls for employees working at companies with 50 or more workers to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. His plan calls for employees earning one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked and says they can begin accruing it after 90 days on the job. People who work for smaller companies would earn unpaid sick time under the same circumstances.
Earned sick time is an issue that has been pushed by workers’ rights groups, which say the law would benefit one out of three workers in Massachusetts, or about 1 million people. It has been opposed by business associations, which say they agree with the concept of giving employees time off when they are sick but disagree with the specific requirements of the ballot question.
Bill Vernon, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Baker’s proposal is a “step in the right direction.”
It clarifies what Vernon calls ambiguities with the ballot question, by saying companies that offer at least 80 hours, or 10 days, of paid “flex time” — which can be used as sick, vacation, or personal time off — would be in compliance.
“That is one of the concerns of small businesses that don’t have HR professionals,” Vernon said.
Under the ballot law, he said, it is unclear whether companies would be required to offer sick time on top of existing flex time or whether it would be included. “I would like it to be absolutely clear,” Vernon said.
One thing Vernon’s group does not like about Baker’s plan is that it requires workers to use their sick time in at least two-hour increments.
Raise Up Massachusetts, a committee supporting the approval of Question 4, said the ballot question provides more workers with earned sick time more expeditiously than Baker’s plan.
“Charlie Baker is clearly opposed to guaranteeing earned sick time for all workers,” said a statement from the group. “Today, struggling families across Massachusetts are forced to choose between the child they love and the job they need. They need earned sick time now.”
The issue has also divided the candidates for governor. Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, and Evan Falchuk, an independent candidate, said they plan to vote for Question 4. Jeff McCormick, also an independent, said he plans to vote against it.