Virginia House advances paid leave bill for essential workers

Delegate fighting for paid sick leave bill
Del. Elizabeth Guzman
Posted at 5:18 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-06 17:18:16-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill on Thursday which would provide paid leave to essential workers.

House Bill 2137, introduced by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, would require essential businesses to offer paid leave to their workers, according to the bill. Employees must be offered a minimum of one paid hour off for every 30 hours they’ve worked, although the bill does not prevent employers from offering additional paid time off. A qualifying employee must work at least 20 hours a week.

Businesses can apply for a hardship waiver, which would allow companies to opt-out of offering paid sick leave to employees if they can prove doing so would jeopardize business. The bill was amended to include an exemption for retail businesses with less than 25 employees, according to legislative records.

HB 2137 covers health care providers, child care providers, educators, first responders, and workers at essential retail businesses, as defined by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 72, according to the bill. Federal government employees are not covered by the bill.

Del. Christopher Head, R-Roanoke, said the bill’s hardship waiver was too vague.

“It seems to me like it just sort of gives a blank check to the Department of Labor to determine what those terms mean,” Head said during the bill’s second reading in front of the House.

Guzman responded to Head’s concerns by saying the hardship waiver was modeled after those the federal Department of Labor offers businesses. Guzman said she expected the department to make standards that could be fairly applied to essential businesses.

“They are the experts,” Guzman said.

Head said he provides paid time off to his employees, to which Guzman responded, “That is not the case for 1.2 million Virginians.”

“Since he already provides paid time off, he will be covered under this bill,” Guzman said, referring to Head’s previous statement.

A recent report by the Wason Center for Civil Leadership at Christopher Newport University found that 88% of surveyed Virginians strongly support requiring employers to provide at least five paid sick days per year.

Guzman’s bill requires up to a minimum of 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, which can be carried over to the following year, according to the bill.

The bill passed the House on a 54-46 vote mostly along party lines. Del. Nancy Guy, D-Virginia Beach, was the only Democrat who voted against the bill.

Guzman said she was grateful legislators passed the bill.

Related: Virginia delegate tries again to advance paid sick leave bill

“I thank my Democratic colleagues for hearing the people we represent and supporting this bill,” Guzman said in an email. “I will keep fighting until no worker is left behind.”

This is the fourth version of a paid leave bill Guzman’s brought before the House since 2018, according to Richmond Sunlight. Her previous paid leave bill died in a Senate committee during last year’s special session after passing the House.

The bill heads next to the Senate. If signed into law, it would take effect on July 1, according to a spokesperson for Guzman.

By Zachary Klosko

Capitol News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.