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Paid Leave Laws Put a Burden On Small Furniture Businesses

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 150 NO. 5 September/October


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Content about HFA member-retailers contributed by HFA.


Benfatti Furniture

Providing paid sick leave is natural for Benfatti Furniture in Pueblo, Colorado.

“We love our employees,” Marie Benfatti said. “We treat them like family, because we’re a family business.”

But a new law in Colorado worries her. Signed by Gov. Jared Polis in July, it builds on the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, applying its provisions to Colorado businesses that aren’t covered by the U.S. law, which expires at the end of this year. Then, on January 1, 2021, businesses with 15 employees or more will be required to provide up to six days of paid medical leave annually. A year later, on January 1, 2022, the mandate also will apply to smaller businesses.

That’s not all. In the event of a public health emergency—such as the current pandemic crisis—employers will have to extend paid sick leave by up to an additional two weeks.

Benfatti, whose family founded Benfatti Furniture in 1957, understands why employees might need that time off. She couldn’t be more sympathetic. She is willing to “bend over backwards” to accommodate employees’ needs. But for small businesses, the idea of having several essential employees out on paid sick leave at one time is daunting. It could force Benfatti to hire fill-in workers or not get some work done.

Benfatti Furniture, an HFA member, promises free delivery to most areas of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. They also pick up and dispose of old furniture and bedding upon request at no charge. That requires reliable employees!

In the event of a public health emergency—employers will have to extend paid sick leave by up to an additional two weeks.

Black Carriage Furniture

Candi Hawkins agrees. She and her husband, Jerald, founded Black Carriage Furniture in Grand Junction, Colorado, in 1999. “We take care of our employees,” she said, noting that everyone wanted to stay at work as state orders forced them to close earlier this year.

When the store reopened, “Our customers were waiting at the door. They were beating at the door saying, ‘Let us in!’”

Sales have been strong since then, but running a small business is always a matter of “keeping our heads above water,” Hawkins said. A law mandating extensive paid leave for employees could sink a business.

The Colorado law is likely to cause hardships for some furniture retailers and other businesses. But its impact may extend outside Colorado, according to the Employment Law News blog. It’s an example of “what the future may hold for paid leave laws.” That’s because, among other effects of the coronavirus, legislators in many states are motivated to set new mandates aimed at granting employees time away from work when they need it. In addition, some cities are writing their own leave requirements.

Some of these state laws and city ordinances, like the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are meant to last until the present emergency ends. Others will be permanent.

Colorado, New York and New Jersey are some of the states that enacted or expanded paid leave laws.

The Colorado law provides that, in a future public health emergency, employees would be entitled to paid leave for several purposes:

In states where paid leave is considered, retailers should contact their legislators and explain the difficulties such requirements present.
  • Self-isolation.

  • Seeking medical care.

  • Caring for family members.

  • Sheltering in place due to a public order.

  • Staying home due to being at risk for the emergency.

 

A debate in California split legislators between those who think this is the wrong time to burden businesses with additional requirements and those who think employees need extra protections now.

California already had a paid leave program, funded by a small tax on paychecks. But employees are not guaranteed that they can return to their jobs. The new proposal, pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would extend that guarantee to more workers and expand leave to as much as eight weeks. Only businesses with fewer than five employees would be exempted.

“I think we have to be very sensitive towards what we’re adding on to our small businesses, in light of us going through this pandemic,” Assembly member Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat, said in opposing the bill during the debate this summer. Arambula wanted to limit the requirements to employers with 20 or more workers.

The federal bill offers tax credits for employers to offset the costs of providing paid leave related to the COVID crisis. It expires at the end of this year.

In states where paid leave is being considered, retailers should contact their legislators and explain the difficulties such requirements present.


 

About HFA: The Home Furnishings Association’s Government Relations Action Team advocates for retail businesses in Washington, DC, and State capitals. For more information about supporting or joining the HFA, visit https://myhfa.org or call 800.422.3778

 

A  feature about Home Furnishings Association's retail members, legislation affecting the furniture industry and other retail news from HFA.


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