Editorial: Portland shouldn't mandate sick pay

A group of activists wants the city of Portland to require all public and private employers to provide paid sick leave.

Given that there’s no such federal or state requirement, the proponents want the city to join at least three other municipalities and one state that have implemented such regulations in recent years.

Having sick pay would certainly be a boon to workers and make their lives more manageable. There’s good reason that many employers offer it, and ideally, everyone would have sick pay and use it responsibly.

However, more than 40 percent of private-industry employees don’t have this benefit, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s because it has real costs attached, and businesses must balance other benefits, investments and expenses when deciding whether to offer it.

The city of San Francisco was the first to require such a benefit in 2007, according to a report in The Oregonian. Washington, D.C. followed in 2008. The state of Connecticut launched its regulations this year, as did the city of Seattle. Similar efforts were blocked in Denver and Milwaukee.

In addition to requiring all employers to provide sick pay, the regulations allow employees to collect the benefit while caring for sick family members, not just when employees themselves are sick. Even many employers that offer sick pay don’t allow this additional benefit.

Family Forward Oregon and the Everybody Benefits coalition are behind the Portland effort, and they’ve received some support from Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz, The Oregonian says, although no specific proposal has been made.

It’s unclear if the proposal has enough support to advance, but advocates said they think the city, not the state, is the place to start. They hope the movement spreads statewide and nationwide. “There’s a long history of Portland doing things ahead of the state,” Everybody Benefits chairwoman Andrea Paluso told the newspaper. “This work trickles up.”

Indeed, the risk is real that elected officials will like the idea of pleasing constituents with government-mandated comforts. We hope the Portland City Council will resist this feel-good effort that spreads government interference where it doesn’t belong. The cumulative effect of such regulations hampers business decision-making and can limit job creation.