FreedomWorks Foundation Content

Mandatory Sick Leave is Bad Medicine for Workers and Employers Alike

On Monday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced that he plans to introduce legislation this year that would “allow workers to earn paid sick days that can be used to recover from a short-term illness, care for a sick family member, obtain preventive or diagnostic treatment or seek help if they have been victims of domestic violence.”

Of course, in the typical parlance of the left, the phrase “allow workers to earn paid sick days” actually means “force employers to give paid sick days,” and the word “earn” loses its significance entirely.

Harkin claims that a greater amount of productivity is lost from workers coming to work sick than from staying home, but this is plainly nonsense. Businesses strive to maximize profits. Why would they then fail to offer paid sick days if doing so would save them money? What Harkin is essentially asserting is that businesses must be forced by the law to act in their own best interests, a claim which is ridiculous on its face.

This kind of thinking is typical for advocates of the nanny-state, who believe that a panel of experts and statisticians can assess your needs better than you yourself can. If employers have a financial incentive to offer paid sick leave, you can bet they will take advantage of it. The current state of the economy demands maximum efficiency from firms struggling to survive.

However, the burden on businesses is not the only cause for concern here. Supporters of a paid sick leave requirement point to research indicating that the cost to employers is very low in the aggregate, and studies differ when it comes to pinning down an actual figure. But regardless of how high such costs are, it will ultimately be the employees who will bear the brunt of them. When the cost of labor increases, companies hire fewer workers. One study investigating the potential impact of a paid sick leave requirement in Florida found that 40% of affected employees would see their compensation reduced in other ways and more than half of the affected businesses would see a decrease in profits as a result.

It is worth noting that the two areas which have implemented a statewide mandatory sick leave requirement, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia, rank 42nd and 41st respectively in terms of statewide unemployment, well above the national average. With similar initiatives being pushed in Portland and New York, we can soon expect to see adverse employment impacts in those areas as well.

Some business owners have come out against the proposed regulations, warning that they will cost jobs and reduce competitiveness, especially among the smaller firms who rely heavily on just a few employees. The owner of one Seattle-based coffee shop has already begun raising prices to cover the additional costs, even though he personally supports the city’s sick leave requirement.

The idea that government can help workers by continually tightening its fist on employers is a persistent fiction, but a fiction nonetheless. With a mandated health insurance requirement looming ominously overhead and an economy that has been stuck in post-recession malaise for years, the last thing small businesses need is another regulation that increases the cost of creating jobs. The impact of a mandatory paid sick leave requirement will not only hurt businesses, but also consumers and the very workers it seeks to protect in the form of higher prices, lower employment and a further drag on an already weak economy.