Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Should Employers Be Mandated To Provide Sick Time?

Today I received an email message from a colleague about the “2013 Earned Sick Days Bill,” which is a Philadelphia proposal to mandate paid sick time for qualified part-time and full-time employees. Currently, there is no state, local, or federal law that mandates employers to provide paid sick leave for workers, although many employers do.

Whenever I read proposals like this, I find I am of two minds. On the one hand, I believe that business owners ought to be able to make decisions about what’s best for their businesses, especially when those decisions come with a price tag. On the other hand, I believe that a civil society will take measures to safeguard the humanity of its citizens and that sometimes, business owners have to be given strong incentive to get on board with that.

The Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces offers five reasons to support this bill—
  1. 210,000 workers in Philadelphia don’t have paid sick leave and need it
  2. It’s good public policy
  3. Businesses save money when they offer paid sick leave
  4. Illnesses spread in the workplace, which is unhealthy
  5. When people with no sick leave get sick (or their children get sick) and are absent from work, their ability to pay for basic living expenses such as rent is compromised, and that has a negative effect on the community as a whole
There’s no question in my mind that working without the benefit of paid sick leave is stressful, especially for primary caretakers. Heck, except for my first hellacious job right out of college, I’ve always worked at companies with decent benefits (and then I got into HR, and the benefits got even better, if I don’t say so myself ) and having a sick child or being sick myself was still stressful, because I’d feel guilty about taking time away from work, conscious as I was of the negative stereotypes often attributed to working mothers.

True story.

Male Manager: I  know I shouldn’t say this, but now that ____ is married, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she gets pregnant and has to go on maternity leave.

Progressive HR Manager (that would be moi, okay?): And?

Male Manager: Well, I’m worried. I’ve invested all this time in her training, and she’s really good at what she does. I can’t afford to lose her.

Progressive HR Manager: And?

Male Manager: This is so annoying!

Progressive HR Manager: Where’s Joe today?

Male Manager (without a hint of irony): He took the day off to see his daughter’s play.

Progressive HR Manager (amused yet incredulous): Do you hear yourself?! Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, and so what if ____ gets pregnant? Congratulate her and hire a temp. It’ll be fine.

See what I mean?

While maternity leave, which typically lasts for about six weeks, and an occasional "school play" day is not comparing apples to apples, my point is that some managers just want some people to work all the time, and that’s unrealistic and inhumane in my view. People get sick, and even healthy people need rest. So, I’m not really enthusiastic about protecting an employer’s right to work his employees to death. 

At the same time, under the proposed bill, leave would accrue based on hours worked, and so employers would have to somehow track the leave earned, which could mean additional labor costs or additional payroll costs on top of the cost of the leave itself. This won’t be a big deal for larger companies, but it could prove to be burdensome to smaller employers. In other words, I worry about the unforeseen costs of effecting this bill for those good employers who really aren’t trying to take advantage of their employers. (But yeah, screw those other guys.)

If, unlike me, you’re completely clear in your support of this bill, there’s a hearing on March 5th. Click here for more information. Maybe I’ll see you there. Who knows?

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