The threat of swine flu is fueling a new push for mandatory paid sick leave.  As NPR reports:

The advent of swine-flu season has raised concerns that flu-ridden workers without paid sick leave may remain on the job, potentially exposing other workers and customers to the virus.

So there are efforts in Congress to pass legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick leave.

NPR’s Joanne Silberner reports…

There are already two bills in the House and Senate that would require employers to grant 7 days of sick leave for any illness, or to take care of a sick relative. The new bill, sponsored by Democratic Representatives George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, both of California, would require that if an employer with 15 or more workers sends a worker home because the worker has a contagious disease, the employer has to provide up to five days of paid sick leave.

The report goes on to note that most businesses already provide paid sick leave, and a representative of the National Federation of Independent Business points out that those that don’t probably can’t afford it. 

That’s an important point.  Of course, everyone feels very bad for someone who is ill and has to take unpaid sick leave.  And yes, employers need to be able to set rules that forbid ill workers from coming to work and endangering coworkers. 

However, a federal mandate that employers must provide employees with a new benefit raises the cost of employment. Already cash-strapped businesses will have a new expense and a more difficult time meeting their bottom line.  They will face tough choices like whether to lower employee pay, try to raise prices, or cut the number of workers all together.

While this new law claims that it will sunset the mandatory paid leave provision in a couple of years, you can be sure that once this new benefit is in place it will be almost impossible to roll back.  We will permanantly have made employment contracts less flexible and employment more expensive.

Crisis is often used to push big government policy.  Panicked people are more willing to cede control over aspects of their lives when they feel threatened.  But policymakers should take pause before passing this legislation which could make an already ailing economy a little bit sicker.