Families Act (HFA, S. 910), sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy
(D-MA), would require businesses employing 15 or more workers to
provide them with at least 7 days of paid sick leave a year.
Employers' experience with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
shows that this legislation would invite abuses that ultimately
harm workers and customers. Because employers cannot discipline
employees for misuse of leave,
have used FMLA to excuse tardiness and to skip work.
face the burden of covering for shirking employees who misuse their
suffer unpredictable delays and shortcomings in service.
not exacerbate the problem of leave abuse by requiring companies to
provide paid sick leave and preventing them from disciplining
employees who abuse the system.
The Healthy Families
allowing workers to take time off work to recover from illness or
allowing parents to tend to sick children. Today, the vast majority
of businesses provide their workers with some form of paid sick
leave: 74 percent of companies provide paid sick leave, while 82
percent provide other paid vacation days that workers can use to
care for a sick relative.
bill would make this widespread and voluntary practice mandatory.
The legislation would require businesses employing 15 or more
workers to provide at least 7 days of paid sick leave per year and
would prevent companies from disciplining employees who abuse this
leave. This would radically change the current system of
voluntarily provided sick leave by encouraging widespread
Like the FMLA, the
HFA would make it difficult for employers to verify that workers
taking sick leave are actually sick. The act would allow workers to
take up to 3 days of leave without any medical certification that
the leave is necessary.
exceeding three consecutive work days, workers would need a
doctor's certification. However, the HFA does not allow employers
to challenge a doctor's certification, even when they strongly
suspect that it is fraudulent. Under the FMLA, employers have found
that workers who are not injured can usually find a doctor who will
certify that they have a chronic condition, such as back pain, that
requires time off work.
employers to provide paid sick leave, preventing them from
challenging a suspect certification, and preventing them from
disciplining employees who abuse leave, the HFA would encourage
irresponsible employees to game the system and dump tasks on their
co-workers while still receiving full pay.
Such abuses are
widespread under the FMLA. Like the FMLA, the HFA would allow
workers to use "intermittent leave" to take sick leave on an hourly
basis. With the FMLA, this has resulted in shirking workers
obtaining certifications that they have chronic conditions, such as
headaches or back pains, that can recur at any time. After this
certification, they can take time off work at will.
manufacturing company has found that almost half of all their FMLA
leave has been intermittent leave of a few hours at a time and that
workers often use the leave to avoid discipline for showing up to
work late or to take leave days after they are denied requests for
vacation days. Other companies have found that workers use
FMLA leave to avoid working undesirable shifts or to take Mondays
or Fridays off and enjoy a three-day weekend. Verizon has found
workers who were taking FMLA leave for back pains but who were
nonetheless well enough to fly to Disney World for a family
employers to provide paid sick leave would facilitate more abuse
and encourage irresponsible employees to treat sick leave as
permission to skip work whenever they want. Currently, with most
companies providing sick leave voluntarily, supervisors can monitor
its use and discipline employees who misuse it. Under the HFA,
employers' hands would be tied, and abuses would multiply.
Abuse is rampant
in countries that require mandatory paid sick leave. In Sweden, for
example, the government pays sick workers 80 percent their salary
while on leave for an indefinite period of time. At any given
moment, 10 percent of Sweden's workers are on sick leave, and over
three-fifths tell pollsters that they take the leave when they have
no health problems.
The biggest losers
under HFA would not be businesses but the customers and co-workers
of dishonest employees. When a worker takes intermittent leave or
takes off work without providing advance notice, employers may not
be able to find a replacement worker on short notice. Instead,
two-thirds of employers respond by reassigning the absent worker's
tasks to the conscientious employees still working. Workers who misuse
sick leave thus force responsible co-workers to cope with a heavier
however, jobs cannot be reassigned and replacements cannot be found
on short notice. In these cases, the job goes undone-to the
detriment of customers. In just one month, intermittent FMLA leave
use forced one Verizon office to leave over 8,900 customer calls
unanswered. According to the Fairfax County, Virginia,
government, several of its school bus drivers misuse intermittent
leave to avoid calling in absences or arriving at work on time,
leaving children waiting on the streets for their buses. The
drivers' abuse of FMLA leave causes these students to arrive at
school late, unless their parents are able to drive them to school
before work. Customers-in this case,
schoolchildren-lose when workers misuse their sick leave.
Workers should be
able to take time off work when they are sick, but the Healthy
Families Act is not the right way to give workers this flexibility.
Most employers already provide sick leave voluntarily, and the HFA
would prevent them from disciplining employees who abuse leave. The
experience with the FMLA and in other countries shows that policies
like HFA encourage some employees to skip work, forcing their
co-workers to cover for them and customers to accept delays and
lower-quality services. Congress should not act to make this
Sherk is Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data
Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.