In a 4/18/15 New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed titled Paid sick leave benefits employees and employers alike, in N.J. and nationwide, U.S. House of Representative Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman argued in favor of laws mandating that employers must provide employees with paid sick time.
Coleman mentions favorably the proposed federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of financial benefits, funded by a payroll tax on workers, and administered by the Social Security Administration. But apparently believing that a national program that would dump paid sick leave on the backs of workers whether they want the “benefit” or not is not politically possible today, Coleman focussed her piece on employer mandates, which are spreading around the country:
No one should have to make the choice between cancer treatments or a paycheck that keeps the lights on. While Republicans in Congress appear to disagree with that — ignoring the reintroduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act — state and local governments recognize that families nationwide will benefit from the added financial security that paid family leave would provide.
Coleman spends much of the article telling us how beneficial paid sick leave is. Most people would probably agree; paid sick time is a good fringe benefit to have. It follows, asserts Coleman, that it should be mandated by law:
Last November, the voters of Trenton decided to make New Jersey’s capital a national leader on this issue, passing a ballot measure to ensure workers receive paid sick days with overwhelming support. Cities across New Jersey, from Montclair to Newark, did the same.
But it does not follow.
The NJ laws Coleman refers to force employers to provide paid sick time off according to a formula dictated by government. But no matter how convincing a case for paid sick leave you can make; and no matter how many red herrings you can concoct (“you shouldn’t have to worry that you’d be fired for taking a few hours off,” she says)—None of that justifies legally mandated paid sick leave, whatever its manifestation.
Is paid sick leave a nice fringe benefit? Sure. Is it good for employers? Most would say yes, which is why most offer it voluntarily already. But who's to say its good for all employers, some of whom may be struggling businesses that can’t afford it? Who’s to say its good for all employees, some of whom might prefer more money in the paycheck rather than the fringe benefit?
Even for companies that have paid sick leave, who’s to say what’s the best way to implement the policy? Each employer has the right to deal with the issue in it’s own way, and there is no one-size-fits-all scheme to fit every business. I have a long-time friend who started a business in the early 1980s designing computer systems for businesses. He had no official sick leave policy. No set number of sick days. He simply told his employees: “If you’re sick, stay home. I’ll pay you.” That way, there’s no incentive to use up the sick days frivolously. Employees were “on their honor.” My friend’s business thrived, his workforce grew, and he eventually sold the business and retired.
Conversely, I worked in the plumbing business for 46 years as a member of the plumbers union in NJ. The union ran the pension and welfare benefits funds, dividing up the pay package negotiated with the plumbing contractors between salary and benefits as we, the membership, saw fit—and as approved by vote. We could have established a union-sponsored sick pay plan. We never had one. The membership didn’t want to pay for a sick leave fund, which would reduce his take-home pay. If I was too sick to work, I stayed home without pay. I made up the lost pay out of my own savings. I never thought of that as unfair in any way. I never thought of sick pay as being someone else’s automatic responsibility to pay for. In fact, during the crucial years when my wife and I were raising young children, I took it upon myself to buy private disability insurance, in case I was hit with an unexpected injury or illness. And in all my years in the business, I never heard of anyone being fired for missing a few hours due to family illness. Employers by and large just don’t treat their employees that way. They can’t afford to.
What right do politicians have to force their own scheme on that employer who can’t afford it, my union that doesn’t want it, or my friend whose way of dealing with sick time doesn’t fit the politicians’ rigid mandate?
The question is not, is paid sick leave nice to have? Who would have any reason to say it isn’t? The question is, what right do politicians have to force any employer to offer it? None. What right does a job-holder have to demand that government force his employer to give him a benefit that wasn’t part of the terms he agreed to work for? None. Such a mandate violates the employer’s right to set his own employment policies, and violates the principle that a government’s proper purpose is to protect individual rights. If an employee and employer agree to terms of employment, the government’s job is to protect the rights of both to their voluntarily agreed-upon contract, stepping in only in instances of breach of contract or fraud. It has no morally legitimate power to dictate terms.
But, Coleman rationalizes, without mandatory sick leave, workers would simply burden taxpayers:
As a legislator, I know that the lost income and resulting job insecurity have a negative impact on our local and federal economies and budgets.
Without the funds to make ends meets, these families turn to state and federal programs that make up the difference — food stamps, energy assistance and subsidized housing just to name a few. If they’ve lost their job altogether, these individuals rely on unemployment insurance, and are no longer the kind of consumer we need to keep our economy going.
Get that? Because of prior rights-violating government programs, we need another one. But this rationalization is not an argument for mandatory paid sick leave. It’s an argument for abolishing food stamps, energy assistance, subsidized housing and their ilk. (I’m at a loss to understand where job loss and unemployment insurance comes in. If anything, mandatory paid sick leave will cause job loss, not prevent it.)
Thug government is rampant. Virtually every politician has some “great idea” to ram down everyone else’s throat through government aggression masquerading as legitimate law. And millions of Americans, even majorities—trained to think that moral and political principles don’t matter—rush to support laws like mandated paid sick leave. But such laws are rights-violating, immoral, and contrary to the principles of a nation that’s supposed to be the Land of Liberty. By ignoring the principle that government should protect rather than violate rights, we are falling victim to the principle that our government can trample over anyone’s liberty for any reason, as long as enough people think it’s a “good idea.”
Mandatory Paid Sick Time: Economically Destructive because Morally Wrong