(Posted on behalf of Bill Willard…)
By Bill Willard
Twice in the last two months Congress has moved to broaden
federal labor policies and provide better benefits for employees.
– Tampa Tribune, April 2, 2007
Earlier this year, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and presidential hopeful Chris Dodd (D-CT) announced their intention to extend the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The original law, authored by Dodd, guarantees eligible employees of businesses with 40 or more workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave, without jeopardizing their jobs, to care for themselves, a sick child or parent. According to the Department of Labor, some 6.1 million workers used this program in 2005, out of 76 million eligible employees.
The populist duo now seeks legislation extending the 1993 Act, mandating at least six weeks paid leave for those employees through a system that shares the cost between workers, employers and the Feds.
The Kennedy/Dodd measure is expected to gain immediate popular support among American workers and other progressive legislators. Predictably, though, small-business owners will be less enthused. The revised law could put employers in a very tight bind, and end up hurting the intended beneficiaries of this imposed largess.
Under the Kennedy bill, employers with as few as 15 employees would have to provide seven paid sick days per year. That’s a lot of money for most SBOS, and could potentially wreck havoc on staffing and production schedules. While fewer employees than expected have taken advantage of the original program, employers are bracing for what might happen during economic downturns. Indeed, a similar measure enacted in San Francisco has seen local SBOs scrambling to cope with employees using paid absences as vacation time, rather than caring for themselves or sick family members.
On the bright side, as the nation’s employee base ages, employers will increasingly seek innovative ways to accommodate experienced pre-retirees by, for example, encouraging work-at-home, semi-retirement and other initiatives designed to keep older workers happy and on the job. But as attractive as the proposed paid sick leave legislation may appear, Congress needs to tread carefully, and craft a solution based on the realities of the marketplace and potential threats to vulnerable small-business owners.
If you agree, let your Senator and Congressional Representative know about it!