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The absence of a paid family and medical leave policy in the United States is hurting my employees and my business. It doesn’t have to be this way, however, because a plan to solve this problem has been on the table for years — only Congress declined to act on it.
I own a Color Me Mine franchise, which allows customers to decorate their own pottery without having to plunge their hands into wet clay or fire anything themselves. It’s a great business, but unfortunately I’m not able to afford the kind of comprehensive benefits package that employees typically find at large corporations. This puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.
One of the mistakes we make in this country is our failure to view paid family and medical leave as an essential benefit. I currently have an employee who needs surgery that requires recovery but is not taking time away from work to have the procedure because she cannot afford to be without income for an unknown period of time. I promised to keep a position open for her on our staff for when she can return, but as a very small business, I can’t afford to pay her for hours she will not be working.
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Even without paying my employee for her time away from work, I’m still getting hurt because I’m down a staff member. I’m as understanding as possible when my employees need time off for a medical emergency or to take care of family members, but the time they take off comes at a cost to my business. If I offered a paid family and medical leave policy right now, the burden of that plan would be on me, and me alone. With a national insurance program, however, I would not be solely responsible for the financial cost of paid family and medical leave insurance, making the impact on my business minimal.
Paid family leave isn’t just about my bottom line. Of course that is important, but small business owners — myself included — often think of their employees as family and care about their well-being. What’s more, being able to collect a paycheck while on leave is particularly important for hourly earners like mine who typically don’t have large amounts saved and are financially vulnerable when pay is disrupted. This may force them to make some significant sacrifices when becoming parents or when dealing with a family health crisis.
Most small business owners feel the same way I do. In fact, a scientific opinion poll conducted on behalf of Small Business Majority found 70 percent of owners and operators of small businesses support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and would establish a federal paid leave insurance program funded by modest contributions from employers and employees. This would ensure employees could receive some pay for up to 12 weeks when they need to take time off because of a serious illness or to care for a new child or sick family member. Nearly half — 47 percent — say they strongly favor this type of program.
A Senate Finance Committee panel recently held a hearing to discuss the importance of a national paid family leave program, and while I am glad to see lawmakers recognizing the significance of this issue for small businesses, the idea has been on the table for several years and would already be law if more members of Congress viewed paid family leave as a priority.
Too many lawmakers spend more time talking about how much they want to help small businesses than actually making a real difference for small employers. Fortunately, Congress has an opportunity to do something right now that would immediately help small firms like mine: It can create an effective national paid family leave program by passing the FAMILY Act.
Tracy duCharme is the owner of Color Me Mine in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is one of the 58,000 business owners in Small Business Majority’s network.
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