May 17, 2020

Management and Malaise

3 min
Sick days are like a thermometer for a business

For a long time it has been a mystery to me why companies that have adopted the most enlightened CRM programs, often these days the very same people w...

For a long time it has been a mystery to me why companies that have adopted the most enlightened CRM programs, often these days the very same people who have embraced environmental and social responsibility with the fervor of a convert, treat their staff like a 19th century counting house. I really do think that empowerment is the concept most likely to be accepted in principle but snatched back in practice.


National scandal?

That attitude is enshrined in legislation. It is, says the National Partnership for Women & Families, a national scandal that 145 countries guarantee paid sick days—but the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, is not one of them. Half the nation’s private sector employees (and nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers) don’t have any paid sick leave. And nearly 100 million workers don’t have paid sick days to care for a sick child. As a result, people are likely to haul themselves into work, unable to contribute other than by spreading germs among their co-workers.

Things aren’t much better at the local level. It was as recently as 2006 that San Francisco passed the nation’s first ordinance providing all workers in the city paid sick days in a scheme that also allows workers to use sick days to care for ailing family members.

The Healthy Families Act, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy and a record number of co-sponsors, proposes seven statutory sick days each year, and though that legislation has been stalled for some time by the Senate after being passed in the House we may expect it to once again become a hot issue as presidential elections approach. Senator McCain was opposed to increasing the federal minimum wage and his failure to address the private insurance bias of healthcare provision - a separate issue from sick pay though so closely related that it’s impossible to consider one without the other - makes it unlikely that he’ll think the country can afford mandatory sick pay.

Hillary Clinton is one of the Act’s co-sponsors. For his part Barack Obama welcomed the July 24 increase in minimum wage (the first raise in ten years) saying: “This increase was long overdue. We stood up to corporate special interests that wanted to deny hard working Americans the basic dignity of a small increase in pay.” For much the same reasons he supports the seven day provision in the Healthy Families Act. There are arguments on both sides of course, with organizations like the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council arguing that smaller employers, start-ups, and those faced with tightening margins at this time might be forced out of business by any increase in their liability.


Business thermometer

When you start to hear pleading of this sort, though, it’s like hearing a voice from the bad old days. One entrepreneur told me the other day that sick days are like a thermometer for a business.

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