December 7, 2021
Small Business Backing of Paid Leave Grows
The pandemic exposed inequities in the U.S. healthcare system. It also revealed a related shortcoming in our workplaces: the lack of mandated paid family and medical leave for most Americans – and especially lower-paid workers.
The United States is the only developed country that does not have a national policy of paid time off for an extended period for illness or maternity leave. In that way, we are keeping company with places like Micronesia and Tonga.
Many major employers do offer sick time and paid or unpaid maternity leave. Even so, 60 percent of the highest-paid workers, who tend to work in larger companies, don’t have access to paid leave for themselves or a family member for extended periods for a severe illness, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The situation is much tougher for lower-paid workers, who are concentrated in small business: 93 percent lack access to paid leave.
Last month, the House approved a reconciliation bill that would mandate four weeks of paid leave for all workers in the event that they or family members become ill. It’s uncertain whether this provision of the reconciliation bill will clear the Senate.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has opposed paid leave in the past, arguing that workers who take extended time off strain under-staffed small employers. Although the federal government would pay a supplement to employers for the leave under the House bill, NFIB said the required paperwork creates administrative headaches.
But this position isn’t supported by small business owners, according to a new study. Even prior to the pandemic, they were in favor of a paid leave policy for employees to take care of family members – and COVID has only strengthened their resolve.
In the fall of 2019, 62 percent of small businesses in New Jersey and New York were very or somewhat supportive of paid family leave, the researchers found. By the fall of 2020 – after months of wrestling with how to handle employees whose family members had contracted COVID – small employers’ support had jumped to 71 percent.
The researchers fielded their surveys in New York and New Jersey, because both states have had paid family leave programs in place for several years. They also found that support increased much more among small employers who had experience with workers taking paid time off during the pandemic either under the state laws or as part of the 2020 federal coronavirus relief, which temporarily required paid time off for workers who contracted COVID or had to stay home to care for a sick family member.
Not surprisingly, paying employees to take care of themselves or a sick family member was popular among workers even before widespread awareness of COVID – three out of four supported the benefit in a poll in the first week in March 2020.
The increase in small business support for paid family leave, the new study concludes, is an indication “that the post-COVID-19 period could be an opportune moment for considering” a national paid leave policy.
Nearly two years into the pandemic, COVID has heightened our appreciation of what’s required to ensure a healthy workplace.
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