A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come? -- Government Mandated Paid Sick Leave Under The Healthy Families Act

Federal legislation to require paid sick leave is currently working its way through Congress.  As currently drafted House and Senate versions of the Healthy Families Act would require seven paid sick days per year for most worker.    

Passage is by no means certain but a number of thorny enforcement issues will clearly arise if the bill becomes law.  For example, how sick do you really have to be to take a day off?  How is this to be verified? What if the employer is skeptical about the need for the day off?

Everyone who has ever tried to leave a sick-sounding message for their boss saying that they can't make it in to work knows that using sick days is an art and not a science.  Employees tend to get sick on Mondays and Fridays, and tend to take periodic "mental health days" when they can enjoy them rather than waiting for a serious injury to strike.  Employers who currently offer paid sick leave know this and are generally willing to accept the cost in order to provide this sort of quasi-vacation time as a fringe benefit. 

Foisting the same requirement on other, more cost-conscious employers will spawn an infinite number of petty disputes over the use of sick days.  These disputes will, in turn, spawn a whole new crop of federal litigation.   

In the long run, employers would presumably adapt to the requirement by treating it as one-weeks' paid vacation with no questions asked and will pay for the benefit by reducing employee base compensation accordingly.  Imposing European-style vacation benefits may arguably be good policy.  But it would certainly be easier to do so directly instead of creating a dispute-generating sick leave law.

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