PTO In America Sucks

I came across the following article recently regarding the push for paid sick leave here in New York City.


“More than 100 small businesses across the city are urging Council Speaker Christine Quinn to back newly proposed and controversial paid sick leave legislation.

The bill, which was proposed by Councilman Dan Garodnick last month, according to reports, would give employees five paid sick days, excluding seasonal workers and employees at businesses with five or fewer workers.”

If enacted, NYC would follow a handful of other states or cities, such as San Francisco, Washington D.C., Milwaukee (which passed legislation and has yet to put it into effect), and most recently, Connecticut, in mandating sick leave.

Proponents of the bill say it’s the right thing to do. Opponents say that small businesses can’t afford it.

As someone who works as a manager, laws like these have not impacted me directly. The Paid Time Off (PTO) programs that apply to the job group I belong to are usually different than the much larger hourly population I work with. Also, I thank my good fortune that the type of work allows for a great measure of autonomy. I’m not strongly tied to a location or set of hours in which to accomplish company objectives.

However, I’ve dealt with the ramifications of people, sickness, and taking time off quite often when I was a employee relations manager. I’ve dealt with issues of lost productivity due to call-outs. I‘ve had to listen to employees lie or manipulate the truth about said call-outs so they can stretch what available PTO time they had left. I’ve had to send employees home due to arriving at the job site sick so as to prevent them infecting others. I’ve also provided counseling to those confused and stressed out about how to take care of themselves or their loved ones without sacrificing their standing at the company.

Here are some statistics to consider:

  • According to a Gallup study, unhealthy workers in the United States cost an estimated $153 billion in lost productivity due to absenteeism. 
  • The US Department of Labor released a report in August 2012 entitled ‘Access to and Use of Leave–2011’ (pdf here) and it highlights that while 90% of American workers have access to paid and unpaid leave, only 21% utilized it in a average week. The vast majority (56%) adjusted their work schedule or work location instead of using their leave time. 
  • In a 2010 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) report, employees used and average of two sick days in a three month time frame to care for themselves and less than one to care for a sick child. This is for groups in which their employer offered them at least five sick days a year off. 

Paid Time Off (PTO) policies here in the United States suck. There, I said it. And I hope more people say it too. While there are legitimate concerns for businesses in implementing and maintaining a program, there has to be a an honest dialogue around this topic. As organizations ask employees to do more with less, there has to be programs in place to support people when they need it. If “people are our most important asset” then benefit programs (PTO and others) should reflect the company’s recognition and support of this. This is where Human Resources professionals (particular subject matter experts in the areas of total rewards programs) can be of great value. Their qualifications can help guide an organization to implementing programs that will support the needs of employees while preserving or increasing the business’ bottom line.

Employers’ fears surrounding cost (e.g., estimated cost to provide PTO and having every eligible employee utilize the maximum amount offered) may be an exaggeration. Employees, it seems, want flexibility more so than to be paid for being absent. And employers that are proactive in identifying and addressing employee health and wellness concerns may be able to reduce costs and preserve productivity outputs amongst employees. 

Link to original post


Leave a Reply