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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Legislating Wellness: Mandatory Paid Sick Days?

Here in the D.C. area, most workers are offered some sort of paid sick leave. It's something many of us take for granted. But because millions of Americans aren't so lucky, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make paid sick leave mandatory.

According to the New York Times, the proposed federal legislation would require employers to offer at least seven paid sick days each year. (Not surprisingly, recent polling has found that the vast majority of those surveyed support the bill.)

Although everyone agrees that offering sick leave is the right thing to do, I have to question the wisdom of mandating it. If an employer is unable or unwilling to offer sick leave currently, I'd bet their employees would feel pressured not to take time off -- even if the law allowed them to.

But however you feel about the politics, it's easy to understand the purpose of the legislation: to encourage healthier workplaces. The freedom to stay home when you're sick spares your coworkers from illness, and also reduces stress -- allowing everyone to be more productive. Employee wellness programs have the same purpose.

One of our clients is wrapping up the first year of their wellness program, and they've seen a real shift toward healthy behaviors. They began by offering a biometric screening and a health risk assessment, and then moved to telephonic coaching. Company executives noticed some changes almost immediately -- employees were eating healthier snacks at work, for example. And our reporting has confirmed how well employees have responded to the health coaching.

So how do you feel about the regulation of the workplace? It's a controversial subject, so I'd love to hear your views. Do you agree with me that healthy workplaces are mainly built from the inside out, or do you have a different take? Let me know in the comments section.

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