Family leave benefits business, workers

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The issue: Unpaid family leave is costing businesses and their employees.

What we think: It’s time for a statewide push for paid leave for families.

Last spring, the Colorado General Assembly opted not to approve a proposal for paid family leave — and businesses missed a golden opportunity.

Paid family leave — for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for sick children or spouses, to help seriously ill relatives — has been discussed both at the federal and state level for years.

And 2018 might be the year paid family leave becomes a reality for employees of businesses of all sizes. Both businesses and families alike say the family leave plans in New Jersey and California (two of three states with mandatory paid family leave) are successful.

Currently, only 11 percent of American workers are able to take advantage of paid family leave — and those are paying for it through payroll deductions. In most cases, those payments are less than $1 a week, but the money is there when and if a worker needs to take time off.

Advocates argue for an inclusive paid leave program, not one that just allows people to take off when they have a baby, but one that allows them to take paid time off to care for a seriously ill child or family member.

Businesses say it makes good sense.

In California, the majority said the program had a positive effect on performance, productivity, turnover and employee morale. In fact, many businesses say the plans save them money. For instance, attrition by women[after the birth of a child dropped between 40 and 50 percent at Google after the company implemented a paid-leave policy. Businesses understand the high cost of recruiting and training new employees — especially in today’s tight labor market — and are increasingly embracing the idea of paid family leave.

Thanks to First Daughter Ivanka Trump, the idea is gaining traction in the White House. President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget includes $19 billion during the next 10 years to pay for six weeks of family leave after the birth or adoption of a child. And the momentum at the federal level is matched by newfound support from businesses. Traditionally, companies viewed paid family leave as a hit to the bottom line — but now they are realizing it actually helps their profit margins.

Paid leave policies can help companies attract new employees and reduce turnover costs. About 77 percent of people responding to a 2017 Deloitte survey said parental leave would be the deciding factor in choosing employers.

It typically costs around 20 percent of the salary. And a 2016 survey of more than 1,500 companies found that 70 percent offering paid leave reported improvements in morale and in productivity. The findings held for businesses of all sizes.

It all adds up: Paid leave is good for business, good for employees and good for the economy. Regardless of what happens on the national stage, Colorado should move swiftly to implement a paid leave policy of its own.

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