Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Unpaid Leave Isn’t Enough for Working Parents…or Business Owners

A great article in Monday’s Oregonian details why unpaid leave (in this case, sick child leave, but it’s equally applicable to family leave) just doesn’t go the distance for working families:

…parents are more likely to take ailing children to child care and providers are more likely to feel pressure to keep them. Frazzled parents are also more likely to skip or delay routine checkups and timely vaccinations for their children because it means taking more time off from work.

And why does this happen? What is it about Oregon’s law that sells parents short? Three reasons:

Many [parents] work for small firms that are exempt. Firms can require that workers use all accrued paid leave first. And many parents can’t afford to lose pay or are reluctant to be seen as problem employees.

Small business owners know supporting families is critical to their company’s success, but they often lack the resources to provide pay during extended leaves because of simple economics: If business owner “A” (knowing his or her employees can’t afford to go unpaid for a month) pays for family leave, and business owner “B” doesn’t, guess who’s at a competitive disadvantage?

The statistics back this up: Nationally, only 8 percent of private sector workers receive paid family leave. Fewer than half (46%) of Washington’s employers offer paid sick leave, and 1 in 4 do not offer paid vacation to their full-time employees. Most part-time workers get no paid leave at all.

Here in Washington, many small business owners have taken the time to come to Olympia to testify in favor of Washington’s family leave insurance program – in EOI‘s interviews with small business owners across western Washington in late 2006, over 80% supported paid family leave legislation.

Paid family leave and paid sick leave programs level the playing field by providing those benefits to all workers. Such policies boost business profits by improving productivity and reducing costly turnover for employers. In other words, they’re not just good for working families – they’re good for business, too.

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