The President snapped the ball on paid sick leave in his State of the Union address and now states are running with it.
A Maryland lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require employers with ten or more workers to provide workers with one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. That can total up to a paid week off during the course of a year.
A worker could use that time for sickness, surgeries, to care for a sick family member, or after having a baby. However, and more controversially, they could also use the time to seek legal or counseling services related to domestic violence or sexual assault.
Advocates say is great for workers and will help keep the workplace healthy. Workers could afford to stay at home while ill, preventing the spread of disease and getting them back on the job faster.
Business owners think it’s a nice idea but many contend that they simply can’t afford to provide this and that they would rather have the choice to offer these benefits themselves, if they can afford to do it, not be mandated by the state.
The measure also includes burdensome reporting requirements such as the number of people businesses employ, which for companies that face high turnover is a headache itself. But that information could be used as evidence to enforce fines or other civil actions for not giving the required amount of leave.
Advocates offered their support, while opponents explained the drawbacks and unintended consequences at a hearing on the proposed legislation.
The Washington Post reports:
“It’s more than a labor issue; it’s a health issue,” said Xaviour Walker, a physician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Paid sick leave is preventative medicine.”
Shelby Skeabeck, a lawyer who defends employers in work-related matters, said the provisions would cost businesses “thousands of dollars” when they are still reeling from the recession, adjusting to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and implementing recent increases in the minimum wage. “In short, the bill is anti-business,” Skeabeck said.
When North Baltimore cafe owner Amanda Rothschild testified that offering paid sick leave to her employees had saved her money and led to lower turnover, Hershey pointed out that she had made the decision to do so on her own. “Isn’t that somewhat of a competitive advantage for if you believe this is the right thing to do?” [Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Queen Anne’s)] asked. “Then why is legislation necessary?”
Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), a former educator, said the bill is needed because too many employers lack compassion for their workers…
Deriece Pate Bennett of the state Chamber of Commerce chose her words carefully. “Our issue is the state mandate,” she said.
“I don’t have money growing on trees,” [Joe Parsley, owner of a Frederick gas station and car wash] said. “I take care of my employees. Why doesn’t the government just leave me the hell alone?”
This measure probably should not come as a surprise. We should’ve taken a cue that the bill’s sponsor Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), had been blessed by the White House as she was seated with First Lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address on the very day she introduced this legislation in Maryland.
This is an instance of government tampering with the operation of the private sector, and because it is a diktat from government it might actually result in people losing jobs rather than gaining paid leave. We saw this with raising minimum wages. Proponents of such measures paint the opposition as cold and uncaring – toting out sad stories of hardship but they provide no evidence of the (unintended) consequences of these measures. Those impacts can erase any gains that the legislation provides.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, labor abuses in industry were sometimes harsh as men, women, and children labored in difficult –even dangerous- conditions, for long periods of time with no time to rest or be with families. Labor unions were great champions and government played a key role in securing the safety of workers. Paid sick time is not akin to the same struggle workers in our history faced and we should be cautious about treating it as such.
The role of government is a bigger question and as business owners astutely recognize, they should be the ones to negotiate benefits for their employees, because that allows them the flexibility in how they structure their policies. And doing so creates a competitive advantage that makes working for them more attractive than other employers.
Let's not forget about the rising labor costs and what that means for operating businesses -especially small businesses.
The bottom line is not and should not be the only consideration, but it is not one to ignore. Then add to this bill the costs for compliance with ObamaCare and minimum wage increases, and we quickly tally up reasons for employers to lay off workers or worse, to go out business all together.
Maryland tends to be less friendly to busines and taxpayers than some other states, and this proposed bill is no doubt part of the Administration's strategy to get its ideas put into law at the state level.
So it is well worth paying attention to this bill.