Employee Time Off: A Tale of Two Mind-Sets

Two recent news items got me thinking about two extremely different mind-sets when it comes to giving employees time off.

Earlier this month, Connecticut made history by becoming the first state in the U.S. to mandate paid sick leave for service workers. The Hartford Courant reports that the sick leave bill, in the works for years, was the subject of bitter controversy and, after 11 hours of intense debate, squeaked by with a vote of 76-65.

The new law affects only companies with 50 or more employees and service workers who are paid hourly. Still, many in the small business community strongly opposed its passage. I’m not quite sure why. What Governor Dannel P. Molloy said in a statement makes perfect sense to me:

“Why would you want to eat food from a sick restaurant cook? Or have your children taken care of by a sick day-care worker? The simple answer is — you wouldn’t. And now, you won’t have to.

Without paid sick leave, frontline service workers — people who serve us food, who care for our children, and who work in hospitals, for example — are forced to go to work sick to keep their jobs. That’s not a choice I’m comfortable having people make under my tenure.”

sick employee

While some employers don’t believe workers deserve a paid day off to recover from pneumonia, at the other extreme, The New York Times reports on companies that give employees paid time off to get married. At Xerox, employees can take up to three days off. At MTV, it’s two days. And at Goldman Sachs, employees receive a week off (and that policy has been in place for 30 years!).

“These are all big companies—they can afford it,” you might be thinking. Then consider Atomic Object. This entrepreneurial software company began offering a paid day off for weddings when they noticed lots of employees getting married and decided a day off would make a nice “wedding gift.”

Atomic Object has grown rapidly, and I think one reason is their business philosophy, which focuses on sustainability—not just in “green” terms, but also in human terms. “Unrealistic schedules and overly complex designs lead to long hours and exhausted people,” says the company’s website. “We practice sustainable pace – responsible working hours that promote balance and quality work.”

Now, I’m not suggesting you have to give your employees paid time off to get married. What I am suggesting is that you think about them in the long term—not just as dollar figures.

Employees who come to work sick are going to infect other employees, you and your customers. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have more people sick and fewer people to pick up the slack. In the worst case, you could get sued if an outbreak of disease is traced back to your business.

Employees who come to work sick are also going to be bitter and resentful. They’re going to complain about you to their friends and relatives. And they’ll be looking for a better job at the first opportunity.

Employees who are treated reasonably and fairly and given time off to do what needs to be done—whether that’s recovering from stomach flu or relaxing with their families–are going to talk about your business to others, be more loyal and have more energy to work productively.

Which kind of employee would you rather have working for you?


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

10 Reactions
  1. I can see exactly why this bill took so long to pass and was so controversial.

    1) It is a mandate. The nicer way of saying that the government is forcing you to do something. Nobody likes being told what to do and the government is the worst because you can get sued and/or go to jail when you don’t do what they tell you.

    2) It requires PAID sick leave. Most people would agree that we don’t want food prepared by a sick cook or sick people tending our kids at day care. But why should the company be required to pay someone who isn’t working?

    Why is the government getting involved here? If having sick employees at work is bad for business, why don’t we let businesses figure that out? If we don’t trust a business to protect our health as a customer, we can stop supporting the business with our patronage.

    As an employee, do we think that we deserve to be paid for a day we don’t work simply because we’re doing everyone a favor by keeping our germs to ourselves? What if an employee never gets sick? Are you comfortable with them taking that extra day off for a vacation at the end of the year? How about giving them two days off because really, they probably deserve a bonus since nobody had to cover for them on a sick day. They didn’t disrupt their workflow once.

    I agree with everything you say about treating employees well and I believe that smart businesses see the benefits of happy employees in the long-term. However, offering paid time off should remain a business decision, not a government mandate.

  2. Well said, Robert. Further, the Ct. law applies to part-time employees, which is often left out of the reports on the law. I just don’t think local businesses who employ high school kids – in part as a community service – should have to pay them when they call in sick (and whether they’re sick or not is another debate entirely). The Ct. law REQUIRES the employer to grant the time off, no questions asked, and has severe penalties for reprimanding or in any way retaliating for taking the time. So if there’s a big game, or a prom, or it’s Christmas or New Year’s Eve and a store employee suddenly “gets ill,” he/she can simply leave (or not show up). And still be paid. That’s not right. If this were a public health issue, we’d all be dead by now. This was a solution without a problem, and it’s created a very large problem with its passage.

  3. As a US citizen now living in Australia, I’ve come to appreciate a bit of a different perspective. The standard for full time workers here is 4 weeks of vacation per year rather than the US standard of 2. (Or at least it was 2 when I lived there)

    In addition workers are entitled to 10 days of paid sick/carers leave per year. I realise the article is talking about part time, but the point I wanted to make is that businesses here can still put some restrictions in place.

    For example, if you’re sick more than one day (ie. Two in a row), you can require a Dr.’s note. Or, if someone is sick on either side of a public holiday, you can require a note.

    I won’t say there aren’t still people who abuse it, but left to their own devices, many businesses would, in fact, NOT come to this same place of caring for their employees properly at the expense of the dollar.

    Anyway, just a different perspective. Cheers

    • You are “right on” Josh. I can tell everyone here horror stories about companies working sick and injured employees, just because they do not want to have a “time out injury” nor do they care if you are sick, you better be there and do your job, even if you are having apendicitis! These employers are the most ungrateful people I have ever met, and its their board of directors that implement these requirements, its really stupid, ignorant, and plain foolish. Other people get sick, and then there is a sort of “epedemic” within that plant, but everyone gets that same ol treatment. Its big money , and I, for one, hate working for these types of companies, it gives me a bad attitude, and I do not care about working there anymore. I suppose thats why I find me working for myself, although I have no benefits, I also am the owner, and I know what I can get done, and what I cannot.

  4. This is classic intrusive government. We don’t need it, and in fact, this kind of well-intentioned but invasive law-making is much more likely to result in worse conditions, not better.

    Example: Before the American Disabilities Act was put in place 59% of diaabled people were employed. Since then it’s been around 49% – it hurt those it was trying to help.

    IBM, Best Buy, Zappos, and thousands of other companies have “no vacation time” policies that far exceed what the government is mandating. These companies expect people to take time off any time they need it, no questions asked.

    In my little company with six employees, we offer no vacation time, no hours of operation and no benefits. Get your result and go home. I guarantee you the people in my company get more vacation time, work when they need to instead of sitting robotically at a desk waiting for 5pm, and have better benefits than any of those government mandates would bring. Ironically, the author of this article points to many companies who made the free-will CHOICE to stop abusing employees as justification for a government law to MANDATE a lower standard of what is best for my company and others.

    There are thousands of companies offering better benefits than the government wants to mandate and the future of work is already taking care of those Industrial Age dinosaurs that don’t get on board. Their employees are going to leave and go to the good companies, a much more effective way of forcing them to do the right thing.

    But now the government and this writer want us to believe that the government has to step in and “fix” the imbalance and save people from the free market which is already offering better options than the government wants to mandate. The end result of legislation like this is to create a mind-numbing “average”, middle-of-the-road, Industrial Age sameness where no one stands out and everyone embraces mediocre.

    Let those companies with lousy employment practices compete in the free market against mine, IBM, Best Buy, Zappos and the tens of thousands of others creating a revolution against the employee abuses of the Industrial Age. If you make them compete head to head without government intervention, they will eventually have to adopt our practices or go out of business.

    Not any more. Now the government has just handed them a get out of jail free card by giving them a typically mediocre government imposed standard to meet. They can ignore the rest of us who are leading the way to what would be a MUCH better option than the government is imposing.

    Once again the government is, at best, institutionalizing mediocrity, stripping us of the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great to shoot higher than they ever would, and making sure we all feel like they’ve done us a favor. How this writer or anyone else could support this kind of intrusion as a small business advocate is beyond my comprehension.

  5. Pathetic law. Solution to no problem. Well said. I’m in the payroll business and even though laws like this help push business to outsourcing more payroll, I’d rather eat dirt than have mind numbingly stupid laws like this drag down an only partially free market.

  6. I agree with you on offering a paid sick leave to employees in order to avoid any mishaps. However, employees should not take this for granted, and therefore use the sick leave only when necessary. Thank you for sharing.

  7. You’re right. it’s a two-way street. Both sides should respect the other