- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

Congress was at it again, using concerns about the swine flu as an excuse to mandate paid sick leave. This time, the pig’s snout is under the tent.

Last month, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on a proposal, H.R. 3991, the Emergency Influenza Containment Act. If passed, this bill would require employers with as few as 15 employees to provide five days of paid sick leave per 12-month period to all full- or part-time workers who are sent home by their employer or directed to stay home by their employer because of contagious illness such as the H1N1 virus. The Senate also held a hearing on the issue.

It is pretty clear that some in Congress are using swine flu as an excuse to push through more mandates on our businesses.

There is no doubt that our small businesses want to ensure that their workplaces remain safe and healthy during the flu season and beyond. Most small businesses are already developing contingency plans and flexible schedules so the work can continue when people are out with the flu, taking care of a family member or simply on vacation.

This legislation fails to give employers and employees the freedom to negotiate with each other the benefit structure that works best for the employee, the employee’s family needs and the company. A one-size-fits-all government mandate is not the answer.

In addition, this legislation fails to take into account today’s 21st-century work force. It does not address the growing number of people (including those in the federal government) who take advantage of telework arrangements, use flextime or companies that offer a single bank of leave that includes vacation and sick and personal leave. Not to mention industries where work is cyclical, such as construction.

This is only part of the problem. New mandates bring new costs in the form of more paperwork and regulations, all at a time when our small businesses can least afford them. Unemployment is hovering at 10 percent, and we need our small businesses to help us out of this economic recession.

This isn’t the only bill that threatens the livelihood of our small businesses. The health care bill that passed the House of Representatives would force employers to pay for health care and impose new taxes or fees on those who don’t.

Mandated sick leave is not a cure for what ails our small businesses. A better solution would be to look for policies that empower the employer and the employee. Let’s support policy ideas that allow employees the flexibility to take time off in lieu of overtime. Employees should decide what is best for them, their families and their business and not have the federal government do so.

Terry Neese is a successful entrepreneur and distinguished fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis who heads the NCPA’s Family Policy Center.

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