Family Leave Debacle
By Llewellyn H. Rockwell,
Family Leave Act, now one-year old, has quietly changed the character
of American business life for the worse. It has introduced new confusion
among employers, created new disincentives to hire, and generated
new hostilities in the workplace. Like other mandates, it has created
new classes of beneficiaries and victims, who have turned on each
other instead of on the real enemy in Washington.
idea for the law came from observing how childbirth affects the
professional woman. No one wants to throw a newborn into daycare,
but the official culture exalts the fun-time career women, even
if she is also a mother, and denigrates mothers who can afford to
choose other paths. Yet few employers, as much as they might like
to, can afford to give three months off for every child.
mandate lobby had an answer, as they always do: pass a law! By the
time the legislation was in final form, it covered not only mothers
but also fathers and parents of adopted or foster children. And
since we couldn't discriminate against the childless, anyone who
is sick, or has a sick relative, can also take twelve weeks off.
the law was passed, businesses found that their internal policies
concerning vacation time, along with informal sick-leave arrangements,
were overridden. The central government knows what companies should
and should not do, so all contrary plans were wiped out in the stroke
of the presidential pen.
with 50 or more employees found they had to give three months off
to anyone who claimed to qualify or face expensive lawsuits. The
business also must promise to hire the person back at the old position,
salary, and benefits. But this isn't "unpaid" leave, as supporters
claim. The government requires the employer to continue to pay health
that's only the beginning. If an employee does highly valued work,
three months of absence can be devastating to the firm. There is
no point in training a new person for the job. In practice, the
employer hires a temporary worker and cajoles other employees into
increasing their workloads.
is willing to help a friend in need, but this is unfair discrimination
against other workers. They pay a clandestine tax from which others
benefit, which is the source of a new employee conflict now burdening
are much less likely to take this kind of leave, of course. But
a man's chivalrous obligations can be pushed too far. When men have
filled in for enough free riders, they too may discover a pressing
reason to take three months off. Through this sort of game playing,
workplace cooperation becomes a dog-eat-dog competition for leisure
are in one day and out the next, only to demand the same position
and pay three months hence, plus no "discrimination" in promotions
and perks. You can't run a business this way.
can forget about challenging the demands for time off. The Labor
Department is absurdly biased. But then, in a spirit of solidarity,
government bureaucrats can always be counted on to support non-work.
employers could speak their minds without fear, they would tell
you that the Family Leave Act has even changed the way they shop
for employees. Let's say two qualified candidates interview for
one job. The first id a single woman with no apparent marriage intentions.
The second is a new bride. On the margin, an employer will choose
the unmarried woman because she's less likely to use Family Leave.
Of course, this is illegal discrimination, but employers have to
run their business, even when it means taking risks.
an economic perspective, business mandates confer no benefits on
employees as a group. All benefits whether medical insurance,
vacation time, unpaid leave, day care, or crack therapy must
necessarily be subtracted from wages and salaries. But there is
a redistribution effect. Under the Family Leave Act, some employees
get hit without a benefit, while others benefit without paying the
injurious piece of legislation would never have passed had not "family-values"
Republicans supported it as a legitimate intervention in the free
they claim, have social obligations. But Spanish moral theologian
and economic theorist Luis de Molina dealt with that question more
than 400 years ago. The only obligation of employers, he said, is
to pay a "just wage," that is, the wage "customarily set in that
region at that time," i.e., the market wage.
wage, wrote Molina, "is not to be considered an unjust payment for
that service or task because it is paid to an individual for whom
it does not afford a living because he lacks other resources or
employment, or because he has many children, or because he wishes
to live at a high standard, or with a larger household than he would
no circumstance," he warns, can employees "surreptitiously take
something from their masters with the excuse that they are not sufficiently
well paid." Now, of course, these unjust takings are done for them
is not to say that the family doesn't need help. Only thirty years
ago, married middle-class women had the option of working or not.
Today, inflation and taxation have forced them into the workforce.
(The percentage of working single women has changed very little
in more than 50 years.)
than lobby for more mandated benefits, which only makes America
poorer, we ought to increase the discretionary income of families
through tax cuts and a massive increase in the child deduction.
Repeal of the anti-discrimination laws that gum up the labor market
would also be a boon to families.
should seek to return to the days when saying "I do" meant that
women could, if they wished, be liberated from wages and the professional
grind. We need to bring back the days when a family could live on
one salary, for in a free market, family leave isn't for three months,
but for eighteen years, if mothers so desire.
turn the clock back, we need to repeal the entire panoply of mandates
that is turning the workplace into an adjunct of the welfare office,
not extend them, as the mistitled Family Leave Act has.