Just about everyone has been sick and needed to stay home from work. Now, we hear the Seattle City Council will consider legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
While actual legislation hasn’t yet been presented, the prospects for it are creating constituencies on both sides of the issue. Those who favor such a law are organizing and have already held several demonstrations. The opposition will come from smaller employers and restaurateurs; they may mount legal opposition.
The question is both economic and moral at this point. Employers in small, low-profit-margin businesses claim they can’t afford to pay people who aren't at work. On the other side, there are those who are living on marginal wages now and can’t afford to take time off to see a doctor or take their children to a medical appointment. They argue that those without sick leave raise public health issues. If they have a transmittable infection, should they be pressured to spread it to coworkers or, if in the food-services business, to potential customers and restaurants?
Aside from the moral and financial debate is the more philosophical discussion of whether a city should create law that tips the scale toward the nanny state. The nanny state is a condition where government assumes the role of the parent and insists morals and lifestyle be legislated rather than be part of the freedoms the Americas were promised in the formation of our union.
Our constitution talks about making the pursuit of happiness possible, but not that it be legislated. The exercise of free will was why we fought the Revolutionary War.
Providing sick leave is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes sense from a public health point of view. It’s highly likely that employers would discover that, with paid sick leave, employee loyalty and service would ultimately end up enhancing the bottom line. But wouldn’t it make more sense for a city to pursue the same objectives by promoting the concept of sick leave rather than legislating it?
The city could, if it wanted, demonstrate real leadership by promoting the idea of paid sick leave. Imagine the positive effects of having the media covering the arrival of several Seattle City Council members at a business that didn’t provide paid sick leave to convince management it was the right thing to do.
Wouldn’t a campaign to promote the advantages of paid sick leave be a better choice? The city Office of Economic Development could provide cost and productivity data that supports the concept that paid sick leave creates loyal employees who enhance a business. The city could establish a PR campaign that promotes and compliments small businesses that support paid leave. The city might also list businesses that do not.
What if the city could facilitate the creation of a cooperative of businesses that currently don’t have sick leave to pool funds in a form of “sick leave insurance” that would help the small business pay for the occasional absent employee going to the doctor?
The city might even find that there were some perks they could offer to businesses that created sick leave programs. Maybe enhanced or less expensive processes for business licensing. The city might lower parking rates near their establishments or have their names appear as favored businesses in Seattle’s Web site. Brochures available to the tourist industry could point to the businesses that care for their employees.
Chances are that a program of carrots would cost far less than enforcement at businesses that don’t provide sick leave.
The precursor to oppressive government is nannyism out of control. Nannyism and religious radicalism are of the same lineage: control of the people. 'Naughty child, do as I say," is the message being sent.
It’s depressing to think why progressive Seattle elected officials would even consider the club over the carrot. Real leadership comes from those who inspire others to do the right thing.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!