Hanzas, Houghton, Jerome: Expanding paid family leave

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Hanzas, Houghton, Jerome: Expanding paid family leave

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:09pm -- tim

by Representatives Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Lori Houghton and Stephanie Jerome We are women business owners who serve in the legislature and we believe more Vermonters should have access to paid family leave in their time of need. Paid family leave should not be limited to people who work for large employers or have high income jobs. As business owners, we know the value of our workers and we believe that paid family leave is good for employees and good for business. That’s why the House and Senate passed a plan to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program to cover more Vermonters. Simply put, we can’t afford to delay.

You never know when an unexpected illness or family tragedy will impact your home, job, or financial well-being. Today, too many Vermonters are shaken by hardship events that are out of their control. An accident, debilitating disease, family emergency, or opioid treatment and recovery can strike at any time. Workers who have an existing paid leave benefit are able to take the time they need to address these family needs, without fear of losing income or being fired. For the thousands of Vermonters who do not currently have access to paid time off, the legislature’s paid leave program would provide eligible Vermonters critical stability in time of need.

Younger workers would also benefit under a paid family and medical leave program. As legislators, we hear all the time about Vermont’s aging workforce and its impact on our tax base.  This bill will help by making time off for a new child a less financially risky decision and by making Vermont’s support for new families an attractive reason to move and work here.

As business owners from different parts of the state, we’ve found that there are common challenges for small businesses and also tremendous opportunity for them to grow and thrive. In our experience, most businesses who don’t already offer these benefits would like to support their workers more than they can on their own. The legislature’s program would immediately assist eligible Vermonters, while providing employers the opportunity to offer more benefits.

The math is easy. If I have a pregnant employee who makes $15/hour and I want to give her 50 percent of her wages for 4 weeks of maternity leave, it would cost my business more than $2400. Under this program, the cost drops to $62.40 per year for 12 weeks of 90 percent pay. The math would be similar for an employee who needs time off to care for a sick family member. This program would help with employee retention and loyalty in a time when it’s hard to find workers. And it would make it easier to attract new employees. It would also be far less expensive than managing employee turnover, which typically costs 2.5 times a person’s annual salary.

Some in the political arena have said that establishing a state paid family leave program is too risky and that a system should be voluntary. These same leaders support the creation of a paid leave benefit that is limited to the state employee workforce. While we support paid leave for these workers, we have to ask —why would we create a program exclusively for this group of workers if we can create a better, more secure program for more Vermonters?  

Rep Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford)

Rep Lori Houghton (D-Essex Jct)

Rep Stephanie Jerome (D-Brandon)