Why hasn't the government imposed a regulation requiring every employee parking lot to have hitching posts for the workers' horses? After all, that should be a basic constitutional right, too, right? Perhaps horse corrals or equine barns should be supplied as a matter of public health, worker safety or transportation convenience, like mandatory breaks in the work schedule, bans against repetitive physical motions, air conditioning in the deep South and industrial-strength heating in the Arctic. Well, maybe some of those things are obligatory. Others in that latter group may be only optional, even if they are typically supplied by sensible responsible employers.
Why not just one more little federal or state rule to afflict employers? All sorts of goofy regulations affecting human resource management are routinely passed into law. Perhaps because elected officials get elected by voters angry at thoughtlessly irresponsible employers. It's easy to activate voter indignation against idiocy. It's also easy (and often popular) to criminalize stupidity.
More often, silly statutes get passed due to an excessive devotion to gesture politics. I suspect that redundant lawmaking is most likely inspired by excessive fear of the negative outcomes that might possibly occur in the absence of official prohibitions. If something is not illegal, someone will eventually do it. If the legal act does harm, civic officials are supposed to have forbidden it. Horrors -- pass a new law! Quick, bar the barn door now because all the horses have escaped! (A lot of equine analogies here ... hey, don't say it!) Seems like our society has gone completely overboard on legislating behavior.
Over-regulation probably stems from the basic fact that public officials are rarely praised or rewarded for Doing the Right Thing. They are supposed to prevent Bad Things, instead. Perfect performance is assumed in their job descriptions. In fact, if they fail, they can be charged with malfeasance in office. Hate to think how that would work in the private sector. If the corporate rules said, "Make a mistake, you get fired and maybe go to jail," guess how many tough decisions would be made? Not many, I suspect.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is one of my (least) favorite anachronisms, equivalent to bringing back horse-drawn trolleys to replace light rail transport. FLSA rules are similarly out of date. In our modern era, many workers rarely enter a brick and mortar company building, don't see their bosses for days at a time or work privately from home. So why is the value of most labor still tied to time spent on the job? How can time-sheets even be prepared accurately for workers who are rarely observed "at work"? Not the problem of the lawmakers, I know ...
Meanwhile, we who haunt this site are tasked with the fun assignment of enforcing compliance with those oh-so-vital rules and regulations. We have no voice in whether they are rational, sensible or even achievable. Remember that nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to do it.*
Simple to pass orders into law, but difficult to assure that everyone abides by them. Puts us in the same position as the street cleaners following the parade of horses, doesn't it? Never find a shortage of that kind of work, I fear.
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent total rewards advisor with extensive multi-industry corporate HR and consulting experience. Once Compensation Editor of the Personnel Journal and Senior Associate of pay surveyor ERI, he returned to consulting in 2015. Author of the Performance Management Workbook, popular speaker and frequent expert witness in reasonable executive compensation court cases, Jim also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
"Hitched to Post" image by Prattle, courtesy of Creative Commons
* Brennan's First Law of Consulting