How Eugene’s paid-sick law hurts small business

markMark F Herbert
New Paradigms LLC
Eugene, Oregon

I have to admit that I was very disappointed to see the Eugene City Council decide to pass an ordinance that will require the vast majority of Eugene based employers and businesses outside of the city whose employees work in the city to provide paid sick time to their employees.

I want to be very clear that my opposition to their action isn’t philosophical, I think that the concept of employers providing such a benefit as part of a competitive compensation package to attract and retain the employees necessary to operate their business has merit, my issue is the City Council choosing to insert themselves in a private relationship between those parties.

In my thirty plus years of experience as a human resources executive and management consultant I have always recommended to my employers and my clients that they create a framework for their relationship with their employees based on engagement rather than compliance. To facilitate that I created a model that I have implemented in multiple organizations based on five (5) pillars:

The first pillar is respect. Every person has an absolute entitlement to be treated respectfully. That respect in the employment environment takes the form of clear expectations and constructive feedback. It also takes its form in the ability for an employee to accept or reject the terms offered by a current or potential employer.

The second pillar is responsibility. Flowing from respect this concept means that we interact with you as an adult and given clear expectations and the resources we provide the autonomy to do your job without micro-managing you.

The third element is information. We provide you with context as to how the task and duties you perform fit into the larger goals of the organization.

The fourth element is equitable compensation. Equitable is defined by the parties and by market conditions as to what constitutes a fair if not compelling compensation arrangement to perform the job in return for the wages and benefits offered.

The last element is mutual commitment. This means we enter into the relationship with a framework of honesty and intent to meet our side of the bargain.

Mandating sick leave doesn’t meet any of the five (5) pillars, in fact I would submit that the decision to impose this decision is disrespectful to both employer and employed.

Employees who feel that this kind of compensation is necessary and important have the opportunity to negotiate that arrangement with their employer. They can also instead choose to make a different arrangement and ask for more direct pay, contributions to a retirement plan, or even other forms of paid time off. In fact more and more employers are moving to a paid time off arrangement where employees earn paid time off that can be used in a variety of ways based on mutual agreement between the employee and the organization.

Those options are essentially off the table with the passage of this ordinance.

The key is that employees and employers make the choice.

The other issue I have with the City Council’s intervention is that they are entering a field that already has multiple venues for an employee who feels this benefit is important to seek assistance including collective bargaining arrangements and State and Federal agencies like the Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I have yet to see anything where intervention by the City has been sought out to join this crowded field or any value or expertise they bring to the issue

For close to 100 years many of the prevailing human resources practices have been dominated by a kind of corporate and governmental codependency where employers or agencies have decided for employees what is necessary and important. Those practices are outdated, disrespectful, and counterproductive.

Excepting those situations where the City is in a relationship with their own employees or in a contractual relationship with a service provider they are simply not a party to this relationship and should show all the citizens of Eugene the appropriate respect by staying out of it.

Some of us are trying to build new models of collaboration to the relationship between employers and employees, this kind of uninvited intervention moves us backward, not forward.

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