(The Center Square) – Members of the Virginia business community let out a collective sigh of relief Wednesday after a Senate committee decisively killed legislation that would have forced businesses to provide paid quarantine leave to employees.
House Bill 5116, sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, would have mandated two weeks' worth of paid quarantine leave if an employee contracted the novel coronavirus or was caring for a family member who had COVID-19. Anyone who works 20 hours per week or longer would be eligible for paid leave under the bill, and eligibility would kick in the moment a person is hired. An employee who stayed out longer than two weeks would stop receiving a check from his employer but would have his or her job guaranteed.
State employees would not have been eligible for the paid leave because lawmakers were concerned about additional costs to the state. The exemption caused controversy as members of the business community said businesses are facing the same economic hardships.
Nicole Riley, the Virginia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, applauded the decision by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to pass by the legislation.
“Small businesses are already facing pandemic-related financial burdens and restrictions on their operations, so the last thing they needed is another government mandate that would add costs and reduce their flexibility,” Riley said in a statement.
“We are very grateful the members of the Senate Committee realized now is not the time to impose additional mandates on small business,” she said “… Small businesses are facing huge operational challenges right now, but they do care about their employees and want to do all they can to assist those impacted by COVID-19. Each business is different, and they need to figure out their own best solution. Tying their hands behind their back with another one-size-fits-all mandate would have made their economic recovery even more difficult.”
Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, said he was pleased the committee members showed restraint and prudence in deciding not to put additional burdens on businesses.
The decision, Melvin said, will ensure fewer businesses are forced to shut down because of the response to the pandemic. When many businesses are not even breaking even, he said they could not have afforded this additional cost.
“It would have been detrimental to these businesses,” Melvin said.
The bill died in committee on a 14-1 vote with substantial bipartisan agreement. It had passed the House last week with Democratic support, 54-44.