We all benefit from having people with Ebola and other dreadful, highly contagious diseases stay home. All of us ought to share responsibility for paying for outbreak leave programs and other leave programs that benefit society as a whole.
But policymakers need to get away from thinking of creating new leave mandates as a great, cheap way to win voter support.
It’s easy for policymakers to assume that all employers with more than, say, 50 full-time employers have the resources to offer workers one week of unpaid vacation time per year, four hours of unpaid school emergency time per quarter, two hours of unpaid voting leave every election day, one week of paid sick leave per year, and two days of unpaid Netflix binge-watching leave per year.
Most policymakers seem either to work for reasonably solvent independent firms of their own, or for the kinds of government agencies, law firms, benefits consulting firms, insurance companies, trade groups or think tanks that have magical abilities to meet payroll without apparent hiccups; organizations that have some middle manager who could make up for a colleague’s sick day by cutting down on Amazon.com shopping time.
But the grim reality is that at most U.S. employers with any flexibility in hiring and firing, the typical employee is doing the work of two, or three, moderately productive employees.
Requiring colleagues to fill in for absent workers means that the workers in the office go from pretending not work an extra 15 hours per week to pretending not to work an extra 25 hours per week.
Especially given how tight credit is for small and midsize employers, those employers face desperate battles to come up with the cash to pay the employees they still have.