Senate health committee hearing stresses importance of paid sick time

As my colleague, Ross Eisenbrey, pointed out earlier, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a very important hearing today (in honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday this weekend) looking at the balance between work and family. This work/family balance has become one of the most ubiquitous sources of economic stress for millions of American families.

One of the important policy proposals covered at the hearing was providing a minimum number of paid sick days to all workers. As Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women and Families noted during the hearing, 40 million workers have no paid sick time to care for themselves or family members when they get sick. Most of the evidence presented at the hearing in favor of providing this important policy was compelling, and it should be clear by now that paid sick time is essential for working families’ economic security. The personal testimony of Kimberley Ortiz about her lack of job security and the penalties she faced at work when she needed to take care of her sick son was particularly compelling and powerful.

In the Senate hearing, Juanita Phillips, Director of Human Resources of Intuitive Research and Technology, spoke about the flexibility her company provides to her workers. She attributes these characteristics—e.g. flexible work hours, paid time off, parental benefits (including short term disability)—to why her company is rated the country’s No. 2 best small business to work for by the Great Place to Work Institute.

Given this, it’s surprising that she argues against the Health Families Act. She claims her company will be punished for already doing the right thing. As an economist, that argument simply makes no sense. To her company, the law is what we economists call a “nonbinding constraint.” They currently provide 15 days of paid time off to new employees for use immediately, and 20 days of paid time off at three years of service. The bill proposes only 7 days.

It doesn’t add up. The one thing Phillips said that could explain her company’s position, is their concern about losing their competitive edge to recruit and retain the best talent. So, she admits the policy is a good one, but doesn’t want to encourage others to engage in it as well. Let’s just say that keeping millions of American families stressed so that a couple of high-road companies get a better pool of resumes when they offer job openings seems like a bad trade-off to me.

This issue is too important to our working families—particularly those at the middle and low end of the wage scale. Furthermore, in the context of similar legislation that was passed in Connecticut, the bill would be of very little cost to businesses, even including those businesses that are not already in compliance with the law.