- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2015

Local businesses are pushing back against a D.C. Council proposal that would give working residents 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave — the most generous of any jurisdiction in the country.

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday came out against the legislation, saying it would be a job killer.

“We’re hearing from small businesses that this would drive them out of the city or out of business,” said Harry Wingo, president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “Both are a problem.”

Mr. Wingo said the Chamber doesn’t oppose helping D.C. workers take care of their families, but the current proposal moves “too far, too fast.”

The bill would mandate that D.C.-based businesses pay a 1 percent tax on their employees’ salaries. The money would go into a citywide fund that would pay for the extended family and medical leave.

The paid leave would give time off to all full- and part-time workers for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious illness, recuperation from military deployment or an employee’s recovery from a serious illness.

Gus DiMillo, co-owner of Passion Food Hospitality, echoed Mr. Wingo’s sentiment.

“This would really be a burden on small business operators,” said Mr. DiMillo, whose company operates several restaurants in the District. “I don’t even think this tax will be enough to support the paid leave.”

Mr. DiMillo went further saying that it’s more than just the 1 percent tax that scares small businesses. The tax could lead to small businesses laying off employees to help shoulder the burden. With fewer staff helping customers, the quality of service will decline. And that will could cause fewer customers to return.

“People won’t be able to enjoy the same great service because we won’t be able to fully staff our restaurants,” he said.

Kathy Hollinger, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, agreed that the legislation could have a domino effect on local businesses.

“We aren’t the big restaurant chains. We are the independent operators. And some will have to rethink their entire business model,” Ms. Hollinger said.

The District would use the fund to pay 100 percent of salary for workers making up to $52,000 a year. Anyone who earns more than that are eligible for $1,000 a week and 50 percent of the rest of their income, up to $3,000 per week.

The legislation gets a little trickier when it comes to federal employees since the District can’t legally levy a tax against the federal government. Feds who live in the District would have the option to opt into the system by paying the 1 percent fee themselves.

Currently, District employees receive 16 weeks of time off for those life events, but the leave is unpaid. D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman, an at-large independent who co-sponsored the legislation, has said the unpaid element of the current policy creates a burden on low-income workers.

“No one should have to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and financial survival,” Ms. Silverman said in an Oct. 14 statement after the bill was introduced. “That is why nearly every country in the world offers some form of paid leave.”

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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