Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99
News Opinion

Sick leave: One size does not fit all

It appears that the proponents of the concept of mandatory sick leave, including the authors of a recent commentary in The Sun ("Investing in health," Nov. 29), have had no experience in managing staff or managing a business.

Starting out as an employee in a consulting firm decades ago, I was informed that I would accrue vacation at a certain rate but was given no specific guidelines on sick leave, except that I should notify my supervisor any day I could not come to work due to illness. So I actually had paid sick leave, but was never told how much.

Years later, after moving into a management position that involved budgeting, I learned that the firm tracked the amount of sick days used by employees and that it averaged six days per year, the figure used in projecting overhead costs for the coming year. Of course, an average is an average, and some employees seldom took any sick days while others took well in excess of six days. Supervisors were told to keep track of sick days and counsel employees when their absences due to sickness began to extend beyond the budgeted average.

There was an underlying belief on the part of management that if employees were told that the firm had budgeted six days of sick leave, some (perhaps many) would view sick days as the same as vacation days and feel entitled to take six sick days off a year even if healthy (sometimes referred to by staff as mental health days).

Fast forward 15 years, and my firm followed the lead of a number of other consulting firms by acknowledging to staff that budgets were based on a specific number of sick days and that the subterfuge of keeping employees in the dark as to when they might get in trouble for taking too many sick days was likely not good for staff morale. So, they made a clever move and one that provided greater certainty for budgeting. They merged vacation and sick leave into a single category called "leave," and increased accrual rates, so that staff now accrued three weeks of leave each year for the first five years instead of two weeks.

The cleverness here was that they reduced overhead by reducing sick days to five from six in their budget. From the staff perspective, if you tended to be healthy, you gained an additional week of vacation. On the down side, if you were prone to illness, you would have to use some of your vacation days to cover illness for more than your allocated five days a year. But from a business overhead perspective, the firm could now have a firm estimate of the cost of employee absences in a budgeted year.

I was fortunate in my working years to be employed by a firm that provided paid leave (vacation and sick), and I'm aware that many firms, especially small ones, do not provide such benefits. But benefits of any type have a financial cost and the human nature aspect of sick leave (that if it is given, an employee is entitled to take it) makes mandatory sick leave in some respects similar to mandating that employees be given paid vacation. I'm not sure how to resolve this specific issue except by requiring that an employee get a doctor's note confirming an illness, which by itself imposes almost insurmountable obstacles for many sick individuals.

Employees have the freedom to seek work with an employer who provides benefits that they desire. Making sick leave mandatory requires that firms create employee benefits which their business model does not presently account for, and it seems to me a more appropriate decision to be made by the business rather than regulators.

William Richkus, Catonsville

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Mandatory sick leave hurts businesses

    Ellen Bravo of the labor-aligned advocacy group Family Values @ Work claims there were few consequences in San Francisco following passage of that city's paid sick leave mandate ("Paid sick leave urged in Maryland," Nov. 12). However, even the research Ms. Bravo cites suggests otherwise.

  • Thankfully, faith of force and exclusion is not the only faith there is
    Thankfully, faith of force and exclusion is not the only faith there is

    "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away." -- The Beatles

  • The Clinton email scandal: a double standard?
    The Clinton email scandal: a double standard?

    Underpinning the coverage of the Hillary Clinton email scandal is a double standard: She is being pilloried for email practices that are widely used throughout government from local school districts up to the federal level, from junior up to senior administrators and from many past as well as...

  • Online poker: Deal me in
    Online poker: Deal me in

    We don't outlaw cars just because people have accidents. Rather, we have automotive safety standards, rules of the road and consequences for reckless driving. Similarly, online poker should not be illegal just because there are computer security concerns. Rather, gaming can be regulated and...

  • Offshore drilling: All risk, no reward
    Offshore drilling: All risk, no reward

    Responding to a caller on WBAL News Radio's C4 Show on Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan made clear he wasn't happy with Attorney General Brian Frosh taking legal positions such as the amicus brief in support of immigration reform he filed earlier this year. While acknowledging that Mr. Frosh, a...

  • Kids don't belong in adult jails
    Kids don't belong in adult jails

    When I first visited the Baltimore City Detention Center in 1999, I found an archaic, decaying facility that held people in grim cells with no direct natural light. The detention center held many children who were charged as adults, and they suffered some of the worst abuses — including...

Comments
Loading