N.H. biz can enroll in voluntary leave benefit Dec. 1

Nov. 2—CONCORD — Starting Dec. 1, all New Hampshire companies can enroll in the first-in-the-nation, voluntary paid family and medical leave program, Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday.

MetLife will administer this benefit for the state that will offer employees up to six weeks at 60% of their salaries to deal with their own health or to care for a family member.

Companies that offer the benefit can claim a tax credit from the Business Enterprise Tax that's equal to 50% of what they pay out in premiums, Sununu said.

"We were told it wasn't going to happen, it wasn't going to work but here we are," Sununu said.

The proposal was Sununu's response to Democratic lawmakers who had pushed a mandatory paid leave bill that he vetoed twice over a three-year period.

Michael Skelton, president of the Business & Industry Association, predicted this would be especially popular for small businesses that lack the personnel to administer an insurance plan on their own.

"This is another tool in the toolbox for New Hampshire employers to attract and retain talent," Skelton said.

Benefits will start on Jan. 1 for companies that choose to join.

Sununu stressed companies could decide at any point in the future to enroll.

The law Sununu signed also permits individuals working at a business without the benefit to buy coverage on their own.

The program will be open for individuals to apply from Jan. 1 through March.

The law caps the premiums an individual with his own coverage would pay at no more than $5 a week.

All state employees also receive the benefit starting next Jan. 1.

Sununu said state labor unions negotiated this benefit as part of their collective bargaining agreements and expected they would continue to support it in the future.

Assistant Insurance Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt said the premium companies pay for coverage would be based on risk factors including the type of business.

"The rate for a business run out of dentist office is going to be a lot different than what a company with loggers would pay," Bettencourt said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com