Friday, June 17, 2011

Mandatory sick leave: It's not just Philadelphia

City Council approved a mandatory sick leave bill yesterday—Mayor Nutter has promised a veto. But Philadelphia isn't the only place this debate is playing out: Connecticut just passed a law, and several other states and cities are considering it. That's why Ben and I tackle the issue in our Scripps Howard column this week. My take:
Here is what opponents of paid sick leave apparently desire: that you enter a local restaurant for a delicious meal prepared by a flu-ridden cook who can't afford to take the day off -- or else her own kids might have to do without a meal of their own. Enjoy your Virus Burger, folks!

Hyperbolic? A little. But the reason the sick-leave moment exists is that many low-paid workers often have to choose between working sick -- or leaving sick children at home -- or losing desperately needed income.

Business owners are understandably concerned that such a requirement would cut into their revenues, and possibly make it impossible to do business. Their concerns are fueled by studies that exaggerate the potential costs by assuming -- implausibly -- that workers would take every possible day of sick leave. An additional underlying belief is that businesses see little or no benefit from offering such benefits to their employees.

Neither belief is warranted. In Connecticut, for example, the Economic Policy Institute discovered that employees who already had access to five paid sick days took off just 2.41 of those days.

And while advocates for paid sick leave say that a national law would cost businesses $20.2 billion, those same businesses would reap $28.4 billion by reducing job turnover and lost productivity from workers who show up ill and can't properly perform their duties.

In these dark economic times, policymakers understandably hesitate to add to the burdens of small businesses. It would be nice if government could provide incentives to business to provide sick leave, instead of merely piling on new regulations.

The underlying principle of such proposals is sound, however: Jobs should offer more than a labor opportunity-- they should offer a living.

If that means you eat a hamburger with fewer germs, so much the better.
Ben: "Don't be surprised if unemployment remains high if these bills pass."

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