Op-Ed: American Small Businesses Need Paid Family Leave

Op-Ed: American Small Businesses Need Paid Family Leave

Small Businesses Need Paid Family Leave
Written by: Kristin Cummings, Director of Finance & HR

As a matter of family values, paid family leave is important, important to our children, to our economy and to our small business community.

BLOOMINGTON, IND. — October 22, 2021 – Small businesses are often the scapegoat for why major change shouldn’t happen on the legislation front. The funny thing about that is, most small businesses welcome change and encourage challenging the status quo on a regular basis. Our small business is no different. We’ve purposely chosen to strive to be different and offer better benefits and a better work-life balance to our employees. As small business owners we’ve seen firsthand how truly impactful these policies can be to our employees and their wellbeing. We’ve also experienced the opposite. Both myself and my husband/business partner have experienced the corporate side of these policies and the detriment they can cause. 

We adopted our daughter from birth four years ago. While we had been getting to know the birth mother for several months prior and had been provided with her due date, we all know babies decide when they are going to come into the world on their own schedule. Three weeks prior to her due date, our daughter decided to arrive. We were overjoyed but also in a panic. My husband, who worked for a local ambulance service, had to get his shifts for the next several weeks covered. Yes, you read that right, he had to get them covered. He couldn’t just call in and let his employer know that his leave was starting, he had to actually attempt to get others to cover his shifts or he’d be written up and potentially terminated. This became even more complicated when our daughter was admitted to the NICU 3 days after her birth.  Thankfully, he had amazing co-workers who not only pitched in and worked together to cover the shifts, but also donated their own hard earned PTO in order to help us financially. But that was the people he worked with, not the organization he worked for. I think that’s the important message here. 

When we decided to go for this small business life, we made one of our top priorities employee care. We actually do not even use the term employee in day-to-day practice, we prefer the term coworker. We use this term interchangeably, but when we think of our team as coworkers, we know that we are keeping our belief of servant leadership in practice. We knew we wanted to provide a direct path to a healthy work-life balance without the worry of financial stressors when life hands you the unexpected. I’ll be honest, at the beginning of this journey, and as the one who handles the finances for our company, I had concerns about making it work on the business side. Providing paid leave, unlimited vacation to exempt coworkers, health benefits, and V-PTO (volunteer paid time off), where we provide one hour of PTO for every two hours coworkers spend volunteering in our community, it all costs money, lots of money. But the more research we did and the more we educated ourselves about providing these benefits, the more we realized that in the long run, retaining employees and creating a healthy work environment paid for itself. It all feeds into our culture, which feeds into our company’s ecosystem.

Yes, there are times that while running our small business we struggle financially and worry about covering all our costs, and debate suspending the “extras.” But every time it has come down to it, we make it work and we look at how the overall benefits outweigh the cost. Using creative avenues to cut costs and boost sales in order to support our values is what our team is all about. We’ve seen firsthand what sending a coworker off for a paid vacation with a travel stipend can do for their productivity and mental health upon return. We’ve watched coworkers grow and blossom through paid training and come back with ideas and motivation to implement them. We’ve also been able to see the stress melt away when our coworkers realize they don’t have to choose between paying bills and spending time with family. We’ve seen the appreciation and care our coworkers experience when they feel valued and they in turn lift up the business.

We understand the challenges small businesses face, especially coming out of the pandemic. We are still fielding those challenges ourselves every single day. But we also know that businesses can and should implement paid leave for employees to improve overall outcomes for the business and the individual. We wholeheartedly believe that this change, while expensive on the front end, pays for itself twice over in the long term. 

The fact is, workers in many low-wage jobs are the least likely to have paid leave, and yet are also the least able to afford to go without pay. Just 9% of private sector workers in the lowest wage quartile have paid family leave benefits – even after the enactment in 2017 of tax credits intended to incentivize employers to offer paid leave. Furthermore, just 19 percent of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers, and only 40 percent has paid medical leave through an employer-provided disability program.1

Please consider reaching out to your representatives to encourage them to vote in favor of the Build Back Better plan which includes policy for national paid family leave. Policies that establish paid leave programs enjoy strong bipartisan support. Eight in ten voters, across party lines, say they support paid leave policies. Today, more than ever, we need our Indiana congressional representatives to know that Hoosiers and Hoosier small businesses are ready to take this step forward and are in favor of federally paid family leave.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits in the United States (March 2020), https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2020/employee-benefits-in-the-united-states-march-2020.pdf

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