Laws and Communities

This letter appeared at Cafe Hayek, as an example of the importance of local knowledge (in contrast to dictates from a non-local authority). It’s easy for someone to decree “there ought to be a law”, and wind up causing more trouble than the law is able to solve, simply because of a lack of knowledge about the particular circumstances.

Another theme I’ve noticed has to do with the difference between law and legislation. To the extent that law is a description of what actually happens, you can’t change the laws by decree. You can write legislation, but if it violates natural law, it won’t work.

Dear Editor:

Today’s NY Times has a heart wrenching piece about how employers disregarded the needs of pregnant employees. The stories presented sound horrific. Although, I always want to fully hear the other side.

In fact, as a small business owner — who ran a warehouse — I can speak to that other side.

First and foremost, employers’ responsibility is to assure fairness to ALL employees and keep peace in the workplace. When making special accomodations for one employee, an employer must ensure she is not overly burdening other employees. Most particularly, we must avoid divisive resentment. Both of these require the assistance of the disabled employee.

Over the years two different warehouse employees were pregnant. Employee A solicited the help of her co-workers. She found ways to lessen their load to compensate for the added burden she placed on them. Employee B used the law to demand special accomodation. Employee B showed little concern for how her request impacted others.

In situation A, it was a pleasure to provide special accommodation. All happily chipped in.

In situation B, all the other employees complained about fairness to them — how they had to do the hard work for Employee B. Resent abounded, other employees claimed their own disabilities — so they also could get accommodations, etc. The workplace — despite my best efforts — became angry.

Laws do not overcome human nature. Workplaces are communities. If we want to help those with “special” needs, it is as much incumbent upon the disabled employee as it is on the employer. After all none of us want an employer to be a dictator using the law to force employees to act against their own will. Stricter and stricter laws do exactly that — force employers to dictate policies that should happen naturally in a community of workers.

[emphasis added]

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