You know it’s bad when even the Washington Post is concerned about the D.C. city government’s rush to pass a generous paid leave benefit. Early this week, an editorial entitled, “Why the Rush on Paid Family Leave for the District?” cautioned:
THE D.C. Council is in a headlong rush to pass by year’s end a paid family leave program for people who work in the city. Details of the bill are still being hammered out and have yet to be disclosed. The bill’s authors seem to have little concern about basic issues such as affordability, workability or impact on jobs and businesses. Instead, what appears to matter most to some council members is the chance to burnish their progressive bona fides by claiming bragging rights to the most extravagant program in the country.
This is good advice. As the Post notes, while details of the proposed program are undisclosed, any generous mandatory paid leave program would be a major administrative undertaking and put D.C.-based businesses at a competitive disadvantage as they face significant new costs, including those associated with increased employee absences.
The Post also might have noted that these paid leave programs actually run counter to true employee flexibility. After all, research shows that employees have different preferences when it comes to their compensation and many would prefer more take-home pay to generous paid leave benefits. Moreover, even when these programs are gender-neutral they inevitably put women at a disadvantage. Employers know that women are more likely to use time off to care for a child or elderly parent, which makes them less attractive employees. For example, research shows that women end up paying a price in terms of lower wages and lost economic opportunities in Europe when such policies and programs are put enforce.
There are better ways to encourage businesses to provide leave benefits and to help workers prepare for time off from work. D.C. city leaders should heed the Post’s advice, slow down, and consider these superior alternatives.