James is a client of mine who runs a 30-person roofing company in northeast Philadelphia. Last week one of the people in his office wasn't feeling well and called in sick. It was no big deal. She got paid for the day. The next day she was back at work. Just like she's been for the past ten years. This is typical of most of the clients that I work with. People get sick. They take time off to get better (which is better for everyone in the office). They come back to work.
This is all good. Except if you're in the city of Philadelphia, where the city council just passed a resolution last week requiring all employers to provide paid sick days for their employees to the tune of one hour of sick leave for every forty hours worked. This is an issue facing many cities and townships across the country: governments telling business people how much and how often they should pay their employees who are out sick. Philadelphia's Michael Mayor Nutter vetoed a similar bill a couple of years ago. And I'm hoping he does the same to this one.
Why? Because a sick leave bill is embarrassing and an insult to both employers like James and his employees.It's funny how some journalists, politicians and leaders of non-profit groups support the law. Some cite the success of others cities like San Francisco. Others reference studies like this one which found that:
...paid sick leave is thought to provide $52 million in gains to employers annually, primarily due to less job turnover, while supplying the sick days costs $51 million. (Another study indicated) that if all employees in Philadelphia had paid sick days, there would be $10.3 million saved each year in health-care bills due to a reduction of 12,188 emergency-room visits.
Here's a rule of thumb: never, ever trust a study that predicts the exact number of anything, including the number of emergency-room visits that would be reduced by a sick leave bill. Remember, that's 12,188. Not 12,189, OK??? And also: always be aware of who's behind these kinds of bills. In this case the city's sick leave bill is sponsored by Councilman Bill Greenlee. Greenlee is a career politician. Literally... since 1980. I'm sure he's a nice guy and very good at what he does. But has he ever signed a paycheck for anyone or run a small business with more than five or ten employees? And finally: never EVER compare yourself to San Francisco. Ugh.
I can't be trusted to come up with my own policy for my employees? I care so little for my people that I would try to take advantage of them when they're feeling ill? I need the city to tell me when I should pay them for staying at home? As if I don't see that a sick employee is unproductive and could potentially affect others in my office? Good employers treat their employees with respect and give them the time they need to get better. I have clients like James who paid their employees for long term and short term absences, or at least provided disability coverage to help make ends meet. Why? Because a good employee is the most valuable asset in the world to most business people. And a good employee works hard and doesn't worry about it if he or she needs to take time off for a sick or vacation day because his or her relationship with their employer is built on the understanding that sometimes people need time off and that's OK.
Which is why a sick leave bill insults employees too. If you're a good employee you don't take advantage. You don't call in sick when you're not sick. You make it in to work as long as you feel like you can do a decent job. You have pride and dignity. You don't need the city to insert itself into your relationship with your employer. You're a grown up. If you're good at what you do you would and should be treated right. If not, you'll find somewhere else to work. Or deserve to be fired. Because even with 8 percent unemployment, most business owners I know are always looking for good people.
It's like being forced to stand in long security lines at the airport. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people waiting with me are not terrorists. They are just weary travelers. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the business owners I know are similar. In my experience I've seen only a very few who take advantage of their employees and treat them unfairly. The sick leave bill is intended for that .01 percent. And you know who you are.
You are the person who treats his employees, particularly those in the lowest paying positions, like cattle. You think that every employee is out to take advantage of you. You keep a wary eye on everyone's hours and are ready to cut someone's benefits when they don't meet your petty standards of fairness. And you are also that employee. That person who skips work that day because of the sniffles. Or even more likely a sale at Macy's. You are someone that doesn't give a hoot about your job or your employer. You're out to grab everything you're entitled to under the law because you're never getting paid enough and your employer is always taking advantage of you. To you the world is a place that owes you rather than the other way around.
Yes, there are people like this. But doesn't the City of Philadelphia, like other cities around the country, have bigger issues to contend with? Our failing schools? Our fiscal deficits? Our looming pension time bomb? And who would enforce such a bill? Shouldn't our cities be doing everything they can to encourage more businesses to open up shop, rather than creating yet another level of bureaucracy and regulations? Because wouldn't these businesses employ more people and give existing residents more choices? Wouldn't an improved economic base contribute more in tax dollars to help us solve our infrastructure problems?
Guess not. Instead our city councils and local politicians would create an atmosphere of more oversight, paperwork and regulation that would encourage potential employers to setup shop somewhere else instead. All because of those .01 percent.
Hold firm, Mr. Nutter. Hold firm. Most of the guys out there are like James.
A version of this column appeared in the Philly Post.