I am the father of small children. As any parent of small children knows, the incidence of illness in the household goes up as soon as your small children mingle regularly with other small children, sharing toys and germs alike. This was brought to mind when reading an article on a bill before the U.S. Congress to create a national paid-time off policy.
“The measure would create a national paid-time off policy for sick days and other personal needs, and businesses that comply would be exempt from tougher state and municipal rules. There are at least 40 different local laws designed to protect workers from being fired or disciplined for trying to follow doctor’s orders. About one-third of U.S. workers get paid sick days, either because local law requires it or their company offers it voluntarily.” (emphasis mine)
To clarify points above, this is a lump PTO policy proposal, inclusive of vacation, holidays, and sick time, “encouraging” 14-20 days of PTO. One challenge within the bill is the ability for managers to reject a worker’s request for time off (something not allowed in current state-based legislation). SHRM believes instances of rejected time off will be limited because non-compliance overall will cause reversion to the more generous state-based laws. But it is very concerning that a manager could deny a PTO request due to inconvenience of timing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the glaring statistic that only one-third of U.S. workers get paid sick days. Stepping outside of the legislation, let’s focus on the humans affected by this policy or lack thereof. Illness – whether it be a nasty cold or a horrifying cancer – is part of the human condition. Setting aside the need to care for ill kids or take aging parents to doctor appointments, the lack of paid sick leave for workers is at least short-sighted and potentially dangerous. When workers have no facility to miss work when sick without risking their job or their paycheque, they have little choice but to come to work ill. That opens the company to risk. A sick worker simply cannot work to capacity, increasing presenteeism, which the CIPD reports costs businesses twice that of absenteeism. Layer on top of that the risk associated with inattention due to illness at work, and the costs to the business become exponential – simply from not allowing people to take the time needed to care for their own well-being.
Part of the compensation package for most employees are the additional benefits they receive – total rewards including health and wellness benefits and time off. I would argue the ability to take time off when sick without fear of reprisal is a human right. It’s also just smart business. (Indeed, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global recently raised $30M.
Remember Thrive Global’s mission, as quoted on their website: “To end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance, and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology. Recent science has shown that the pervasive belief that burnout is the price we must pay for success is a delusion. We know, instead, that when we prioritize our well-being, our decision-making, creativity, and productivity improve dramatically.”)
Part of what it means to WorkHuman is to create the space, time, and ability for our workers to care for all aspects of their personhood – from personal illness and rejuvenation to caring for family. What could this legislation mean for your business? Will a national law calling for paid time off help or hurt organizational efforts to care for the well-being of their workers?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.