paid leave

Central Delaware Chamber seeks changes in paid leave regs

Sam HautGovernment, Headlines

paid leave

The Division of Paid Leave is considering changes to a proposed paid family leave requirement.

The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce is asking the Delaware Department of Labor to address concerns that small businesses have with proposed family medical leave regulations.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the chamber asks for an immediate pause on the implementation of the regulations for a minimum of 60 to 90 days because of issues the chamber says will harm many of its 850 members.

The letter, signed by Brian Stetina, chairman of the chamber’s Board of Directors, included a five-page document detailing specific issues in the proposed regulation.

Those issues ranged from not properly defining an employer or an average weekly wage to wanting a written notice before the division starts penalizing businesses violating the act and making sure all days in the regulation are in business days.

Judy Diogo, a consultant and former president of the Central Delaware Chamber, said in an interview Thursday that the issues the chamber raised involve the negative impact it will have on small businesses.

“There’s a lot of criteria there, there are timetables, reports have to be turned in at different intervals…they’re talking about notices,” Diogo said. “They’re talking about the businesses being the one to either approve or deny a leave of absence. Those things are really hard when you have a business…but you don’t actually have an HR department…There’s just a lot of moving pieces to it.”

Christopher Counihan, the director of the Division of Paid Leave, said that there are some complaints they received from the chamber that they will be taking into consideration when they publish the rules July 1. The regulations take effect 10 days after that.

After the rules are published, Counihan said there are still changes they can make, which require another 30-day public comment period.

“Those that are more substantive, we will probably remove…from these proposed regulations,” Counihan said. 

Diogo said Counihan agreed Wednesday to two meetings within the next two weeks with members of the chamber.

Counihan said the first meeting will be June 6.

One meeting will include any members of the chamber interested in asking Counihan questions, and the other would include members of a task force set up by the chamber to look into the regulations, Diogo said.

A year after the Healthy Delaware Families Act was signed into law last year, the Division of Paid Leave in the Department of Labor released a set of proposed regulations May 1, 2023, that would govern how the law is implemented.

Related Story: Paid leave bill heads to Carney for signature

The new law requires employers to offer paid parental, family caregiving and medical leave to employees who’ve been with the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during that time period.

Employees can take up to 12 months of paid parental leave every year, but only up to six weeks of paid medical and family caregiver leave every two years.

While employers with between 10 and 24 employees would only be required to offer parental leave, businesses with 25 or more employees would need to provide family and medical leave. 

Businesses with less than 10 employees or that close their business for 30 consecutive days in a year are exempt from the regulation.

The regulation stipulates that 0.8% of an employee’s wage go towards the state’s family and medical leave insurance account fund, with employers able to split it at 50/50 with the employee.

Counihan said he was surprised by the number of employers who would rather pay 100% of the contribution, as it’s easier than taking it out of an employee’s paycheck.

The exact amount that each employee and employer pays into the fund is based on wages paid on or after Jan. 1, 2025, and assessed against individual employees’ wages.

Diogo said paid leave program would start to take contributions from employees in 2025 to build a fund for the program to begin offering leave in 2026.

Even so, businesses with existing paid family leave policies looking to be grandfathered into the program need to apply on an online portal by Jan. 1, 2024. The chamber would like that date pushed to April 30, 2024, to give businesses more time.

That won’t be possible, Counihan said. Changes to the rules can only be made if they don’t conflict with the law, and the law specifies when the portal closes.

While complimentary about the efforts that Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, made to make her bill fair, Diogo said the chamber and its members don’t think the government should mandate whether businesses offer paid family leave.

Issues of this nature should be dealt with by the employer and employee, Diogo said.

“In order for businesses to be able to do this, we have to make it easy for them to do, because their main job is running their business,” she said. “It’s not being an arm of the state government to take care of paid family leave.”

Several businesses have said they’re gonna have to figure out how to work around the new law because financially they cannot bear the burden, Diogo said.

“We’ve been told that they’re going to do what’s necessary for them to maintain their business,” she said. “And if that means scaling back, that’s what they will do, because they have to think of the greater good which is keeping their business functioning, operational and sustainable.”

Diogo said the chamber wants regulations to be favorable for employers.

“It’s in place. We’re not fighting that,” Diogo said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that it’s going to work the best that it can work for our members who are the employers and also make it so it works for the state because, at the end of the day, the states gotta be able to run this program.”

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