On March 6 the Portland City Council may vote on whether to require virtually all businesses that employ six or more people to provide them at least five paid sick days per year.
Some supporters of this policy believe it’s actually immoral to make someone choose between coming to work sick and losing a day’s pay needed to take care of their family. Another perspective is that it’s immoral to impose such a policy when its cost may very well lead to less employment, especially for the working poor.
Supporters also argue that other cities and states are beginning to implement such policies, and at least 45 other countries already have them. Of course, other jurisdictions have lots of policies that reduce the flexibility and freedom of employer-employee relationships, and their economies generally suffer the consequences. Such impositions elsewhere shouldn’t justify adding them here.
Finally, some local economists believe the cost of extending paid sick days to employees is far outweighed by reductions in other business costs associated with employee turnover.
But if such positive tradeoffs were obvious to employers, they would offer paid sick days voluntarily out of their own economic self-interest. Of course, it’s not government’s job to encourage voluntary implementation of anything.
Remember that government “is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”*
*Often attributed to George Washington, similar phrases were apparently in common use in the 1700’s.
Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.