In early 2010 I decided to leave my job with a large international corporation to work for a consulting firm that is also a Federally-qualified small business. In my new job, I was excited to have the opportunity to develop new business, to build my own portfolio of interesting projects, and to work with a small and dedicated group of people who had extensive expertise in their field. I was also asked to join the company’s leadership team and finally had a seat at the table for management decisions. Having a voice in how your company grows, invests its resources, and takes care of the people it employs is deeply satisfying both professionally and personally.
While I was proud of our company’s excellent health and retirement benefits offered and the work-life balance we cultivated, the noticeable absence of a paid family leave benefit began to trouble me after my first year. While most of our employees and those on the management team were well beyond new parenthood, we also had a handful of young professionals in our firm who were just beginning their families or likely would begin in the next few years. With my own toddler and preschooler at home, I was also the only woman in senior management who was still in the deep trenches of raising young children. It was time to use my place at the table to speak up and advocate for a change.
I knew from personal experience the significant impact a paid family leave benefit could have on a new parent. My previous employer had a generous 16-week policy that twice allowed me to stay home and bond with my newborns. Without a doubt, the ability to maintain our financial security in those first critical months made me both a better new mother and a more committed employee. Instead of choosing between a paycheck and managing my family’s healthcare needs, I was focused on caring for my new baby and my own healing. Research suggests that rates of infant mortality, immunization, breastfeeding, and maternal depression show improvement when women have access to paid leave during pregnancy and after childbirth. Access to paid family leave also increases the economic security of women by contributing to higher levels of employee satisfaction, employment rates, and wages in the years following childbirth.
I noted these advantages to our company president and recommended that we consider adding this policy to our benefits package. Not surprisingly, he was receptive to the idea, and we immediately began exploring the options that worked best for our company and employees. In the end, the commercial family and medical leave policies and costs for our small pool of employees did not fit our needs, but we knew this benefit was an important part of our company’s long-term success and growth. Instead, we made the decision to self-fund a paid maternity leave benefit that also allowed new moms the flexibility to return to work part-time and/or telecommute during their baby’s first year.
For our company, a paid family leave policy makes good business sense. A key factor in our success as a small business is the longevity of relationships and institutional knowledge established with our clients. Any benefit policy that improves employee retention and helps us avoid the costs of employee replacement and retraining only strengthens our success. However, as a small business, our commercial options to cost-effectively provide this leave benefit are limited, and a publicly-administered family and medical leave insurance fund would correct that. In fact, a Small Business Majority poll released in 2017 found that 61 percent of small business owners support paid family and medical benefit programs set up by the state and funded by employer and employee contributions to pay a portion of the employee’s wages for a limited number of weeks. Five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that provide such a program, and state legislators recently announced that a similar Family and Medical Leave Insurance Bill will soon be introduced in Ohio.
Paid family and medical leave policies strengthen the economy and local businesses by increasing workforce participation, employee retention, job satisfaction, and productivity. A publicly-administered program in Ohio would improve the affordability and expand benefit access to more small business employees and to low-wage workers. These policies are also pro-family and women-friendly. Communities and children thrive when the well-being and economic security of women are prioritized and when working families can live and care for their families in a prosperous environment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allison Russo, DrPH, MPH, is a public health policy expert and currently the Research Director for a health policy and finance consulting firm. She has authored numerous reports on a wide-range of health care issues including access to appropriate care by vulnerable populations, the determinants of health outcomes, and payment policy options that incentivize the delivery of high-quality care. She is an advocate for universal access to affordable and quality health care and lives in Columbus, Ohio.