Confusion lingers over NM paid sick leave law - Albuquerque Journal

Confusion lingers over NM paid sick leave law

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – During the first five months after a New Mexico paid sick leave law took effect, the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions received about 30 complaints about possible violations.

But only three of the complaints have, to date, led to fines or other financial damages being imposed – including a plant nursery in Doña Ana County and a lending company.

Meanwhile, of the 31 complaints received since the paid sick leave law took effect in July, restaurants and food service stores, along with health care employers, made up the biggest share of businesses that were the subject of complaints, according to data provided by the state labor department.

About half of the complaints had been resolved as of this week, a department spokeswoman said, with most of the resolved cases being dismissed for technical reasons, at the complainant’s request or because of an administrative hearing officer’s ruling in favor of the employer.

With the 60-day legislative session approaching, Department of Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Stacy Johnston also said the agency is not planning on seeking additional funding from the Legislature for enforcement efforts.

“At this time the department is not seeking an increase in funding specific to the law, as the case load for Healthy Workplaces Act complaints is relatively low, but we will assess further as we continue to increase awareness of the law in New Mexico workplaces,” Johnston told the Journal.

However, some advocacy groups that pushed for the statewide paid sick leave mandate say issues exist with how the law is being implemented.

Stephanie Welch, the director of worker’s rights for the nonprofit New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said some workers are still being told by their bosses they are not eligible for paid sick leave.

“What I’m hearing from employees is they’re asking supervisors for paid time off and they’re saying, ‘That doesn’t apply to us,'” Welch said Friday.

But she said it’s not clear whether such responses stem from confusion about the law or resistance to it – or possibly a combination of both factors.

Welch also said it’s still too soon, in her view, to tell how successful the state’s overall enforcement of the law has been.

The new law, technically known as the Healthy Workplaces Act, was passed by lawmakers in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But it did not take effect until July in order to give businesses more time to prepare.

It mandates all private businesses – large or small – provide paid sick leave for all employees, whether part-time, full-time or seasonal employees. The paid time off can be used by employees to deal with illness or injury – for themselves or family members.

Under the law, which does not apply to state or local government employers, workers earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, or up to eight days annually for full-time employees.

Before winning legislative approval, the paid sick leave proposal generated fierce debate at the Roundhouse about its impact on small businesses, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics predicted the paid sick leave mandate would impose a financial burden on businesses whose profits plummeted during the pandemic, but backers countered that requiring employers to provide paid sick leave would increase employee retention.

Rob Black, the president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said he remains concerned about reporting requirements in the new law, specifically a mandate that businesses track both employees’ available and accrued sick leave time.

Those requirements could become more onerous with the start of the new year, he added.

“It’s those sort of things that are very unsettling to the business community and even payroll companies,” Black said.

He also questioned whether all workers – and their employers – around New Mexico are aware of the new law, especially non-English-language speakers, despite an outreach effort by the Department of Workforce Solutions before it took effect that included state-sponsored webinars and a rule-making process. “I worry that both on the employee and the employer side, there hasn’t been enough education about the law and the rights that it provides,” he said.

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