Patchwork of Laws Myth

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Here we go again. This time, it’s the Guardian and the particular “patchwork of laws” that will make it difficult for businesses are those mandating paid sick leave for employees. However, this is not a new argument. Amazon used the same supposed inability to manage a patchwork of laws to oppose having to collect sales taxes according to state laws. Cell phone companies use the excuse to avoid having to comply with state fraud statutes, if you can believe that.

Ironically, the entire concept is false on its face to anyone who cares to look for two seconds.

The Myth of Standards

The particular article this time is about how some states and cities have passed laws requiring workers to get paid sick time, although the concept of a “patchwork of laws” being too difficult to comply with is a frequent attack made by business for varying proposals.

It seems that different amounts of sick time, with differing eligibility, across different locales is going to create a big burden for business. It’s easy to see how unbelievably unfair and difficult this will be when your realize that until these laws were passed, all other employee pay, benefits, rules and regulations were the same for all employees everywhere.

Oh wait, that’s not true at all.

patchwork of lawsThat’s right. Business today, and forever, has dealt with the fact that different places, different customs, different people, different times, and different laws prevent business from being a cookie cutter effort. Before any sick leave laws were passed, there was a patchwork of minimum wage laws, a patchwork of child labor laws, a patchwork of who does and does not get overtime, and so on.

Whenever you hear this ridiculous excuse, think of one thing: Safeway.

Safeway is a grocery store. It isn’t some fancy high-tech company. It isn’t “disrupting” anything. It doesn’t need over the top, cutting edge technology. It operates all over the country in numerous states, countless cities, and just as many counties.

In Colorado alone, Safeway must calculate different sales taxes based not only on location, but based on what is being sold. In Colorado, food is taxed at a different rate than other items, and so are other categories such as alcohol and tobacco. Each city and county has their own sales tax amounts as well with different rules about what counts as taxable, and what isn’t. In addition, there are different zoning restrictions, signage rules, utility connections, permits, and who knows what else.

And, that’s just Colorado, what about other states?

Of course, the taxes aren’t even the hard part. The hard part is actually the business part. Safeway sells tens of thousands of items, but not all the same items in every store. Different stores carry different things based upon community demand, and time of year. Each item must be priced, and the store doesn’t have the same prices for the same item in every state, or even every city. Every single Safeway store prices tens of thousands of items on a per store basis, and changes those prices regularly. Do you honestly think a company that does that, all day every day, can’t mange to give 4 sick days to people in State A and 6 sick days to everyone who works in State B?

The Business Patchwork

It isn’t just laws either. Without any rules or regulations requiring it, businesses all over the country pay different employees different amounts. Even two people doing the same job make different amounts, sometimes based on how long they worked there, sometimes based on merit, and sometimes based on demand. And, that’s not all.

Many companies offer benefits like health insurance or a 401k plan. These poor businesses have to keep track of who signed up for insurance and who didn’t, who signed up with kids, who chose the high deductible plan, and who chose the HMO plan. Some people sign up for the 401 plan and some don’t. Those that do choose different amount of contributions. How can a company be expected to keep up with such a difficult patchwork of employees?

For starters, computer help a lot. Believe it or not, nobody does payroll by hand writing amounts in a ledge with ink and quill. Even small one and two people businesses either have software that helps with payroll, or they hire a bookkeeper (who uses software to do payroll.) That software is plenty flexible to handle some variance in sick days. Even if that wasn’t the case, every business with more than one location has to figure out how to do business in multiple locations.

The rebuttal is that a small business won’t have the resources. Of course, a small business won’t NEED the resources. After all, a business small enough to have a little old lady doing the payroll by hand won’t have that many employees in the first place, and certainly not scattered over dozens of states. If she can keep track of Dave’s pay rate and Mary’s pay rate and get their tax withholding right, she can certainly count to four, or six, or whatever number of sick days they end up with.

The country is filled with a patchwork of laws because we have a patchwork of governments. Any business capable of doing business in more than one place, is capable of handling more than one set of rules. Let’s put this ridiculous burden of patchwork of laws myth to bed once and for all.

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