Why we need sick-time regulations

Filed under: covid, news, politics — jlm @ 11:00

There’s a terrifying report from the NY Times and affiliates today: With the traditional retail shut-down triggering a big jump in online retail, there’s been a big jump in the workload at the businesses that get the deliveries to the consumers — and the pressure to meet at that workload is causing many employees to come into work despite being sick, even when they’re almost certainly suffering from COVID!

Absent the pandemic, our laissez-faire approach to sick-leave policies has resulted in a race-to-the-bottom and certainly contributed to the spread of traditional casually communicable diseases like the common cold and flu. With the pandemic, here we see that it’s actively undermining our efforts to fight the disease’s spread! Whether it’s the proper remit of government to prevent this race-to-the-bottom is a matter of political philosophy, and this right here is a demonstration of why it’s bad to not have those regulations. Without regulations, businesses won’t enact policies that reduce the spread of diseases, because that’s a social good but not a competitive improvement. Proper government recognizes that its duty to the society it governs includes ensuring that businesses don’t face competitive pressures to act in ways that hurt the greater society. Sick-time regulation is one such case: a uniform and regulated policy would protect society as a whole by reducing the spread of casually communicable diseases, while letting businesses still compete in the matters that are properly their remit like customer service, productivity, and product quality.

Our failure to have socially beneficial sick-time polities has already contributed to the epidemic and continues to do so. But now that we’re here, we need to do more than look back and regret our foolishness and lack of foresight. A responsible government would step in with emergency regulations and keep these employees home, provide unemployment funds while they’re recovering at home instead of getting paid hours at work, shield them from any retaliation for doing the Right Thing by staying at home, and release the pressure to have so many employees on the job by suspending (or at least relaxing) delivery guarantees. If stopping the spread of the virus is important enough to shutdown retail over, it’s important enough to slow shipments over! Is the US government going to take these obvious actions? Time will tell, but my level of trust is low and I believe it will not, and thereby destroy a decent fraction of whatever good the shelter-in-place policies would provide.

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