When President Obama took office in 2009, his administration backed an effort to require businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. The legislation didn’t go anywhere at the federal level, but it’s picking up steam at the state and municipal rungs.

Connecticut last month passed a bill requiring the benefit, and governing bodies in Philadelphia, Denver, California and Massachusetts are considering similar proposals.

Employers say they can’t afford the financial burden of such benefits.

Advocates say workers shouldn’t have to choose between their health or their paycheck. Who is right? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the matter.

JOEL MATHIS

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 BOYCHUK

Providing paid sick leave is an excellent idea, and any employer able to do so and still profit in a highly competitive yet sluggish economy is going to be an attractive place to work.

Mandating that all employers provide paid sick leave in a sluggish, uncertain economy will put people out of work. Businesses that operate on tight margins won’t hire new workers or will lay off old ones.

Not every excellent idea, in other words, should be a mandate. Every benefit has a cost.

New York City considered a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance last year. A study by Ernst & Young for the Partnership for New York City estimated the law would cost businesses — and therefore consumers and workers — up to $789 million a year.

The proposal died when Mayor Mike Bloomberg threatened to veto the bill. “It would be a disaster if the government tries to get in to run small businesses. If they run the bars and restaurants, they’ll try to run everything else,” he told the Wall Street Journal in October.

Of course, Bloomberg didn’t think twice about using the government to “run the bars and restaurants” when it came time to ban smoking and transfats. When a guy like that thinks paid sick leave would hurt business, maybe supporters of the idea should take pause. Not that they will.

Paid sick leave does offer a useful lesson about good intentions and bad policy, though. “If you make it a law, then you have a level playing field,” explained Nancy Rankin, a senior fellow with a group called Better Balance, in another Journal story. “No one’s at a competitive disadvantage.”

Translation: Businesses generous enough to offer paid sick days are no longer at a disadvantage. Businesses that couldn’t afford it are simply out of luck. Don’t be surprised if unemployment remains high if these bills pass.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis are moderators of the website, RedBlueAmerica.com, an initiative of the E.W. Scripps Co. Boychuk ([email protected]) represents the Red (conservative) side. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) represents the Blue (liberal) point of view. Boychuk and Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com. This column is distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.