The Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would require every business with 50 or more employees to offer each full-timer at least five paid sick days per year. Although Democrats hold hefty majorities in both houses, some Democratic state senators are skittish about the proposal, and passage may depend on Democratic lieutenant governor Nancy Wyman’s tie-breaking vote. If passed, the bill would encourage their national counterparts, who are pushing a similar piece of legislation, the Healthy Families Act.
So far, the bill’s skeptics have worried about its burdens on business. “The scariest part is we have heard from several employers who have told us how many employees they would have to lay off,” state representative Sean Williams, a Republican, tells NRO. “We’d be the only state in the country to mandate this.”
Liberal economists reject this argument. The Drum Major Institute, for example, did a report on San Francisco’s experience with mandated paid sick leave and found no discernible effect on local employment. The Center for Economic and Policy Research came to the same conclusion using data from 22 well-off countries.
As a result, Democrats who are wary legislators today may be gung-ho supporters tomorrow. “In principle, I agree with it. I just want to make sure it doesn’t hurt our business climate,” state senator Beth Bye, a Democrat, recently told the Connecticut Mirror.
But the principle is precisely the problem.
If the state mandates paid sick leave, employers will cut workers’ compensation in other areas. “Most empirical findings suggest that the costs of such mandated benefits (more time off) are passed on to workers in the form of lower wages and other benefits,” Larry Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University, writes in an e-mail to NRO.
James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, agrees: “Essentially what the government is doing is forcing workers to take more paid sick leave. That’s a choice available to them right now. Employers are required to provide workers with unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. They get up to twelve weeks a year. You already have the option of less pay for more time off. If workers want to, they can take unpaid leave. What this would do is force them to make that choice.”
“The logic behind something like this is basically wrong on two fronts,” Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argues. “First, legislators assume it will come at no cost to employees. Second, they assume that workers’ current compensation package is different from what they want. . . . And we don’t know that that’s the case.”
And shouldn’t employees make those decisions themselves?