BUS I568 – Ethical issues arise with paid time

Subject: Business / General Business
Ethical issues arise with paid time off for illness, from both the employer’s and employee’s perspectives. On the employer’s side, decisions about sick leave are generally influenced by costs. The employer is paying the employee while the employee is not working. In a large corporation, it may be relatively simple for the many well employees to keep projects moving ahead while some employees are ill. But in a small organization, the absence of a few employees—or even just one or two—can create significant backlogs, especially if some of those employees have no colleagues qualified to do their work.

This challenge came to the fore recently when Connecticut became the first state to require that all businesses with at least 50 workers offer wage-earning service workers at least five days of paid sick leave. Cities including Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, have enacted similar requirements. Some business owners worry that they cannot afford such requirements. Others note that when a sick employee comes to work, the spread of infection and the worker’s inability to concentrate can cause greater problems than the absence of that employee. Proponents of sick-time rules sometimes maintain that it is a matter of justice and compassion to encourage people to rest when they are ill.

From the employees’ perspective, ethical questions involve their impact on others at work and their needs for time to take care of themselves and their dependents. Going to work when sick takes a personal toll and can spread the illness to one’s co-workers and customers. Staying home can leave co-workers without support they need to carry out their work. In cases where the company does not pay for sick time, staying home to rest also may create a financial hardship. Low-wage workers are the least likely to have jobs that pay for sick leave.

These decisions are complicated for employees who have dependents. Typically, sick leave is meant for a worker’s own illness, but as a practical matter, parents with sick children use this time when a child is ill. This may be seen as an abuse of the policy—or as the employee’s only recourse for fulfilling personal duties when a policy does not recognize the realities of family life. But even employees without dependents feel tempted sometimes to take a “mental health” day when they are not actually sick but are mentally or physically worn out.

QuestionsFor an employee, what is the ethical choice to make about going to work when he or she has the flu? How does your answer depend on whether the employee is paid for the time off? How does your answer change, if at all, when the sick person is the employee’s young child?
For an employer, does ethical conduct require providing employees with paid time off for illness? Why or why not?
Do you think that cities that enact mandatory sick leave policies are creating an anti-business/anti-competitive environment? Why or why not?


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