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BIA Business Perspective: N.H. Legislature: Do what I say

BIA Business Perspective: N.H. Legislature: Do what I say

Nobody really likes being told what to do, especially by people who have limited or no experience about what they’re instructing others to do. For employers, there’s a lot of “Do what I say” going on at the State House this legislative session. It’s not based on best practices or trusting employers to do what’s best for employees (their most important asset). Instead, these “Do what I say-isms” are based on the legislators thinking they know what’s best for employers better than employers themselves. Sadly, both political parties are guilty.

From the progressive side of the political spectrum there was a raft of legislation again this year telling employers how to best run their business, especially in the employee benefits area. Again this year, legislation in both the House and Senate sought to force employers to provide a paid family leave benefit. Many employers across the state already provide some level of paid sick time, or paid family leave, or at the very least some flexibility to allow employees the time they need to deal with a personal illness or family crisis. But other employers, especially smaller businesses, don’t have the resources or ability to provide such a benefit. Employers are in the best position to determine the level of compensation and benefits they need to attract and keep talented employees, not government. Having the legislature mandate a “one-size fits all” benefit, regardless of each employer’s ability to provide it, is simply government overreach.

Another example? House Bill 113 mandated that employers pay employees for accrued but unused vacation time. Many employers (not all) provide some form of paid time off. These benefits vary widely and are based on an employer’s ability to afford the benefit, and the need to provide the benefit to attract and retain employees. Some employers allow employees to roll unused vacation days into the next year. Some employers have what is known as a “use it or lose it” policy. And some employers allow for payment of accrued, but unused vacation time. The point is, employers are best equipped to design this benefit to suit their needs, not the state.

On the conservative end of the political spectrum, legislators aren’t telling employers what they must do, they’re instead telling them what they can’t do.

For example, one of the most controversial bills this session deals with the “propagation of divisive concepts.” Language included in the House-passed version of the budget prohibits government entities (including state agencies, schools, counties, and municipalities) from engaging in any employee training that includes discussion of “divisive concepts” such as systemic racism or unconscious race or gender bias. These prohibitions also extend to any private sector employer that provides goods or services to the state. In this instance, state government is deciding for private sector enterprises what they can and cannot include in their diversity training for their employees.

Further, there are numerous bills sponsored by conservative legislators that prohibit employers from either requiring vaccinations, or in some cases, simply inquiring about vaccine status as a condition of employment. Employers are already held to extremely high standards when it comes to employee safety. To prohibit employers from requiring vaccinations (as many hospitals and healthcare entities do), or even discussing reasonable accommodations for those who may have medical or closely held religious beliefs regarding vaccinations, will likely lead to work settings that are more risky than necessary. Since the Legislature has chosen not to provide employers acting in good faith during the pandemic with a legal safe harbor — a top BIA priority this year — such intrusive legislation will further expose employers to unwarranted pandemic-related liability lawsuits.

There is a common theme for all of these “Do what I say” bills from the 2021 session: “We, the government, know better how to run your enterprise than you do.” We wish legislators would trust employers to do the right thing. New Hampshire is at risk of becoming another “Nanny state,” something we’ve witnessed occurring throughout New England and the Northeast U.S. Legislators and Governor Sununu are in a position to prevent this from happening by pulling back on “Do what I say” legislation. We hope they will.

Susannah Chance is senior vice president of human resources for Dover-based Work Opportunities Unlimited, and chair of BIA’s HR/Health Care/Workforce Development Policy Committee.


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