The issue: We’re still arguing about paid family and medical leave.
What we think: Don’t wait on the state. Do what’s right for your employees.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2020 General Assembly plans to tackle a controversial subject once again: paid family leave.
It’s an issue that divides business owners and employees: Staff need time off to have children or to care for a sick family member and they need to be paid for those longer absences. Businesses say the programs cost too much and are unsustainable.
Still, that hasn’t kept the legislature from trying — and not just once or twice. When it comes to family leave, it’s likely to be the same song, sixth verse. But there could be new melodies thrown in for consideration.
The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act would require businesses and employees to pay into a fund that would cover up to 12 weeks of paid leave for every Colorado worker who needs it. Others have suggested a private insurance fund like the ones used for workers’ compensation claims.
As the legislature takes up the issue, it’s clear that businesses must respond to the need to allow employees time to take care of their families and personal issues. It’s one reason why the Business Journal supported a family and medical leave bill at the beginning of the 2019 legislative session.
“The U.S. is the only industrialized country on the planet that doesn’t guarantee paid time off due to the birth of a baby, to care for an ailing loved one — to care for oneself,” the editorial board wrote last February.
Last year included a step in the right direction: A task force was formed, made up of disparate business interests, to explore the possibility of such a law. The group included proponents, small business owners and naysayers, including the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. The task force commissioned three studies and wrote a 48-page report.
There wasn’t consensus, but “Legislation is expected again this session from Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who has run similar bills five times. The senator said she is still working out the details, this time using the task force report as a guide,” The Colorado Sun reported in January.
A major point of contention is whether the program should be a social insurance program run by the state, or a private-option program where businesses would be required to purchase paid-leave insurance on the private market.
Cost, of course, is also an issue. A model of the program shows state costs would exceed the original estimate from last year’s legislative session by more than $200 million for a low-benefit program. A high-benefit option was more than $1 billion over budget.
Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, has a different idea: An employee can contribute up to a maximum of $6,750 per year to a specified savings account as a pre-tax deduction. Employers who contribute to the employee’s account would earn a tax credit of 25 percent of their contribution, or receive a 25 percent tax credit if they pay at least half of the employee’s wages while on leave.
An account cannot exceed $24,000, and the account stays with the employee when they move to another job. The employer contribution, however, does not follow the employee if he or she leaves.
There’s bipartisan support for a solution, but it doesn’t have to be a government mandate. Business owners can create their own leave policy. It’s what we did at Colorado Publishing House, which owns the Colorado Springs Business Journal. We’ve adopted a no-limit paid-time-off policy — and employees have taken advantage of it to care for critically ill children, for family members in hospice care, for extended vacations abroad.
We do it because, though some things change, many things stay the same: People are still people. We still have newborns; we still get sick and so do our children; we still lose loved ones; we still need time to get away from our full-time jobs to decompress. And the government didn’t force us into the policy. We saw a need to take care of our highly skilled workforce and created a solution.
If you decide to create similar policies for your business, those, along with options such as flex-time and telecommuting, can serve as an incentive for top talent to come work for you — not your competitor.
Paid family and medical leave shouldn’t be a polarizing or a partisan topic. Remember, no matter if you are blue, red or purple, everyone needs some time away.