Ask an Ethicist: Expanding Fast-Food Outlets

Just to be clear, I wrote both the question and answer for this.

Question: I’m a CEO of a large fast-food chain. Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act) requires me to provide health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours each week. Providing insurance is expensive and I would rather not have to hire so many part-time workers to avoid providing benefits. If Obamacare is not repealed, I won’t be able to expand and create more jobs. How can I ethically expand my business without incurring more expenses?

Answer: Any law that prevents you from opening more outlets should be expanded, but that’s just my opinion. Limiting the number of restaurants you open will encourage locally-owned businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to open their own establishments serving their friends and neighbors. Chains such as yours destroy local economies and limit workers to minimum-wage jobs with no benefits.

What happens as a result of your not offering health insurance and other benefits? The most obvious consequence is that your employees are likely to not be able to go to the doctor, so they will be sicker, and they will come to work sick because you also do not offer them sick time. Having employees work while they are sick might help explain why noroviruses spread so quickly, but I don’t guess you are concerned with that.

Keeping employees part-time to avoid giving them benefits also means that they must work more than one job in order to survive. This in turn means they are not available to their families and cannot pursue further education. The system you want to maintain keeps workers sick, uneducated, tired, and disconnected. While having a constant pool of desperate job applicants probably sounds like a business bonanza to you, it has consequences. If you haven’t noticed, societies filled with people unable to develop personally and professionally, care for themselves, or seek leisure activities are unhappy societies, and that affects everyone.

What would happen if you provided health insurance? Your employees could afford to work only one job. You could have a more stable workforce, meaning your employees would be more reliable, better trained, and more prepared for advancement. It would mean your employees could get treatment for illnesses and come to work in better health. If you and other businesses provided health insurance, it would mean workers would have more income. More money for workers means expanding markets. And that means you may be able to open a few more outlets after all.

About ethicsbeyondcompliance

I hold a PhD in medical humanities with an major emphasis in ethics. I began teaching college-level ethics in 2000.
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