"Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave," Obama said in last night's State of the Union address. "It’s the right thing to do."
That might not seem like a very controversial statement. As a business owner, you want your employees to stay home when they're ill, so they don't infect the rest of your workers and hurt overall workplace productivity as a result. A lot of conservatives don't see it that way, though. Many are opposed to the idea of a "mandate" -- they aren't comfortable with the government telling employers what to do. And many more think that a sick leave mandate would simply force workers to accept sick time in lieu of higher wages.
That sentiment is best summed up in the tweet from the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein below -- if you want a fully fleshed out version of the argument, see this piece from the Heritage Foundation's labor policy analyst James Sherk.
But as it turns out, there's nothing "forced" about that proposition at all. A 2014 survey of 4,507 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81 percent support paid sick leave legislation of the type Obama is proposing. The survey found majority support across all demographic and political groups, with even 70 percent of Republicans supporting such a law.
More to the point, a 2010 survey of 1,461 Americans conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents how they felt about paid sick time, and then presented them with a battery of arguments for and against such legislation.
The "con" arguments included "If employers are forced to increase costs by providing for paid sick days, they will cut other costs by reducing wages or benefits like health care coverage" and "A one-size-fits-all, paid sick leave mandate from the government would threaten workers' wages and benefits. Government mandated benefits that increase business costs would have to be made up by cuts in wages or benefits."
But after hearing these arguments, respondents' views on sick leave legislation were unchanged -- 75 percent supported mandatory sick time before hearing the arguments, while 74 percent supported it afterward. Even more telling, respondents rated the appeals about lower wages among the least compelling of the con arguments.
So, let's take sick leave's detractors at their word: If it really comes down to a choice between paid sick time and higher wages, Americans overwhelmingly choose the sick time. So why not give them that choice?