The United States is the only developed country not to have federally mandated paid leave for illness. In fact, 38 percent of private sector U.S. employees have no paid sick time according to government statistics.
Paid sick leave is one of those ‘rights’ which has its champions and detractors. For some it is a fundamental need or right – which cannot be denied by anyone. They point to the benefits – in terms of employee engagement and focus – of allowing an individual to take a day off for rest and recuperation from illness, or provide care to a sick family member – without having to worry about financial loss. They say that the absence of paid sick leave brings persons carrying communicable infections and diseases, like influenza or even the common cold, to work where they can easily pass it on to others at the workplace. Its opponents consider it an unfair financial burden, which forces an employer to compensate a malingering worker’s day off. After all, who would say no to a paid day off?
So, is paid sick leave something that every worker needs and deserves? How would small employers, who are already struggling to stay productive and profitable in these uncertain economic times, cope with the additional burden of having to compensate a worker who is frequently absent for a variety of reasons, none of which qualifies for short- or long-term disability? The paid sick leave is seen by many as an additional burden on employers already wilting under the pressures of the mandates on providing health insurance to employees and their families, under the Affordable Care Act.
As expected, the country’s politicians can’t agree on this issue. In June, Florida’s governor signed a bill ensuring that Florida employers are not required by law to pay workers for sick days. New York has joined the handful of other American cities with local laws supporting paid sick leave with a strong majority of favorable votes overturning the veto of its mayor, Bloomberg. The law comes with a caveat, which exempts the manufacturing industry; but others get up to five paid sick days a year from next year. Paid sick time laws have also been passed in San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Connecticut; Philadelphia; Seattle; Long Beach, California; and Portland, Oregon. Two days ago, Rhode Island took a step further, becoming the third in the nation (with New Jersey and California) to pass a law that guarantees workers paid time off to care for seriously ill family members and new children.
As with most arguments, the truth would probably lie somewhere in the middle – and would not always offer a clear-cut solution to an issue. Each new positive development favoring the issue will have people thinking about the matter more; but the split in opinions will always be clear and definite, as the benefits reaped by some would detract from the profits of others. Not all of them may have enough profits which can support or withstand the additional financial burden. It could also result in putting pressure on the prices of their products and services – pushing them northward or making businesses reduce the headcount using hiring freezes and layoffs. They may also reduce working hours or find other ways to cut their outlay on compensating employees.
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