HR Hero Line

In search of the win-win solution

by Mark I. Schickman

Too often, the workplace is viewed as a zero-sum game ― a win for an employee or loss for the boss, every savings for the company obtained from an employee concession. The political parties are playing it the same way; either employers pay more or workers get less ― nobody suggests a win-win route.

In Washington, too, good economic news is a plus for the country and the Democrats but a blow to the loyal opposition. And bad numbers are a win for the red camp because a president has never been reelected with unemployment standing over 8%, as it has for 42 months.

So recently both sides claimed victory in the monthly employment report game. Republicans seized on an uptick in the unemployment rate from 8.2% to 8.3%. Of course, the real number ― which includes those who are so discouraged that they stopped looking for work and those who have settled for part-time underemployment ― is about 15%. And of the nearly nine million jobs lost in 2008 and 2009, we have recovered just four million in the slowest economic rebound since World War II.

But there is another way to look at it. We are adding about 150,000 jobs a month. Most of that just keeps up with population growth, but part of it chips away at unemployment. July’s new job number of 163,000 was encouraging enough to send Wall Street up 217 points.

So our job market is either getting better or worse, depending on which network you watch. We proceed slowly toward recovery. Too slowly, say some; slowly but surely, say others.

It’s like falling off a peak and climbing slowly to our prior perch. It’s all strenuous but good―unless we encounter a rockslide. Unfortunately, we find those all around the globe.

We keep a close eye on Europe because a failure in Greece, Spain, or Italy will rock the European Union, with whom we have close economic and financial ties. Europe is also a major customer of the manufacturing giants in Asia and South America, and its woes are being felt in China and India as well. Absent those forces, the American job market is a good bet to regain its footing, but like the weather, international storms are strong enough to hamper our climb, and there is little we can do about it.

Is your hiring picture, staff spending, and faith in the economy getting stronger or weaker? Between now and Election Day, we will get three more monthly reports, which will be interpreted in conflicting ways to prompt politics rather than truth. Maybe after the election and just in time for the holidays, we might get the gift of some truth.

Politics in the workplace: An employer’s election-year guide

The answer lies in paid leave?

So where do we find win-win suggestions untainted by the political polarization that imbues the field? One comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted a three-year study on the effect of paid sick leave on nonfatal workplace injuries.

Data from 38,000 workers show that employees with that benefit suffer nonlethal workplace injuries at work far less often ― 2.6% for those with paid sick leave and 4.2% for those without. This statistic holds true regardless of gender, education, location, or industry. Aside from expected workers’ compensation savings from the lower injury rate, the real savings is in avoiding the business disruption caused by employee injury.

Why does this occur? Perhaps employees are more likely to get injured when they come to work sick. If those employees come to work and infect others, who then feel financially compelled to work, sick or healthy, an expanded group of under-the-weather staff may be more prone to injury.

HR Guide to Employment Law, including employee leave

Whatever the cause, this CDC statistic underscores one area in which the interests of employer and employee align: The provision of paid sick leave appears good for both.

We are doing a great job of polarization ― taking apparent points of commonality and spinning them in opposite directions. We need to find more opportunities for coalescence and convergence. The win-win scenario is the way to pull all of us up to the summit of opportunity for which both employers and employees strive.

Mark I. Schickman is a partner with Freeland Cooper & Foreman LLP in San Francisco and editor of California Employment Law Letter. You can reach him at 415-541-0200 or schickman@freelandlaw.com.