Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Just the facts (on family leave), please | Part 2

Just a few more thorns to yank after yesterday’s post reviewing the Washington Policy Center’s brief on Family Leave Insurance:

[Opting out of the program] would help alleviate the regulatory burden small businesses face once subjected to the parameters of the program. Currently, there is no option to exempt small businesses (as there is for FMLA and the state’s medical leave act).

What would that burden be, exactly? According to a U.S. Department of Labor survey, for a substantial majority of employers, the existing Family and Medical Leave Act (which provides unpaid leave) has had no negative effect on productivity, absences, turnover and morale; nor has it hurt productivity, profitability or growth.

The brief neglects to mention that Washington’s Family Leave Insurance law also includes 10 specific protections for employers, such as requiring that family leave run concurrently with Family and Medical Leave Act benefits.

If (as WPC posits) many businesses are already providing paid family leave, then there’s no difference, because the employee takes paid leave regardless. If, on the other hand, workers are taking unpaid leave to care for a new child…employers still won’t see much difference. The employee is away from work either way.

Keep in mind it’s the employee’s responsibility (not the employer’s) to file for benefits, and workers taking family leave insurance will receive compensation at no direct cost to the employer. The employer, meantime, has the salary of the worker on unpaid leave to cover the costs of replacement, if necessary. No harm. No foul. No (real) burden.

The final paragraphs of the brief state:

One of the criticisms about the proposed family leave program is that any worker is eligible; even ones who might not normally be eligible for other types of government assistance.

“Everyone pays into the system, therefore everyone benefits” is the supposed logic behind the plan, but…[t]his creates an entitlement mentality that even though a person may plan accordingly and not really “need” the $1,250 entitlement, they would be fools to leave the benefit unused… .

Conversely, those workers paying into the system who do not have children would never be able to use the benefit they are paying for.

This is more of a ideological criticism of Family Leave Insurance – but since the WPC brief is written for small businesses, perhaps an examination of the program from a “market” point of view is more helpful in understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the program.

Family Leave Insurance isn’t just an economic safety net for working families – it’s an investment that improves productivity by reducing turnover, and helps children be better learners in school. Both are essential to continued economic growth.

It yields other returns as well: lowering infant mortality, encouraging breast-feeding (bolstering babies’ immune systems), and allowing women time to recover from childbirth.

In other words, the benefits of Family Leave Insurance will be shared by every taxpayer, business, health care provider and school district in the state through lower health care costs, reduced burdens on social services, and improved academic outcomes.

No one should have to choose between their job and taking care of a new child. As citizens in a shared community, we all have a stake in the well being of our citizens. According to our constitution, our state’s paramount duty is to provide amply for the education of all children. Family leave insurance is a key step toward meeting that mandate.

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