Paid leave benefits mean much more than a boost for business

little-boy-on-slideResearch shows good workplace benefits, including paid sick days and family and medical leave, reduce turnover and boost productivity. Essentially, healthy employees make for a healthy business. But ensuring all workers have access to paid leave benefits isn’t just about business owners stepping up for economic gain. It’s about helping kids get the best possible start in life – which pays off in the long-run.

The vast majority of brain development occurs by age three, which means the foundation on which a child builds long-term success is established well before she even starts school. A good education is essential, but a child’s earliest experiences impact long-term educational outcomes, in addition to health and social outcomes.

So where does paid leave fit in? Paid parental leave has been shown to double the duration of breastfeeding, which supports the health and development of children well-beyond their first weeks of life. Further, infants are more likely to get well-baby care and recommended vaccinations when their mothers are able to take at least 12 weeks of leave post-delivery, enabling them to fight off serious illness for years into childhood.

While some parents have access to 12 weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the leave is unpaid, preventing many workers from fully utilizing FMLA, if at all. Just 12% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave, and for many it’s barely enough to cover the healing time necessary after labor and deliver – much less the time needed for adequate bonding, breastfeeding and follow-up health care.

And what about the months and years following infancy? Educational success is affected by a child’s health and well-being. A sick child can’t learn, and yet nearly half of working parents – 53% of moms and 48% dads – do not have access to paid sick leave. In Washington, this means hundreds of thousands of kids are going to school and day care while sick, spreading their germs to other children, as well as their teachers, caregivers and parents.

Investing in kids through paid leave policies isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s necessary to provide children with the best possible start in life. Early investments have the greatest impact, and pay off for all of society when healthy children grow up to be productive adults.

Fortunately, policy-makers are starting to catch on to the positive effects of paid leave benefits. In addition to sick leave laws in Connecticut, San Francisco and Washington D.C., Portland’s city council unanimously passed an ordinance covering most who work in the city. Seattle’s paid sick and safe leave law has been in effect since September 2012.

Two states have paid family leave programs for all workers, California and New Jersey. The most recent efforts to expand and fund Washington’s family and medical leave insurance law failed to receive a vote by members of the House, but other states and localities continue to consider these policies.

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