Paid Leave Supports Workforce, Economy and Future Generations

Nov 30 2016
Angela Earle-Gray

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Angela Earle-Gray, who is the human resources director at Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls.

As the human resources director for Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls, I’m proud to work for a company that deeply values its employees. In addition to offering living wages, health insurance, paid sick days, and other benefits, Chroma provides paid parental leave and short-term disability leave. We provide these benefits because we believe it is the right thing to do. Everyone should be able to manage work and family needs without fear of losing wages or their job.

Recently the VT FaMLI Coalition launched a campaign to establish a family and medical leave insurance program for all working Vermonters. This program would allow employees to take paid time off to bond with or care for a new child, recover from a serious illness or injury, or care for a family member with a serious illness or injury.

It is natural for those working in human resources to worry about new laws and the challenge that might come with the administration of new laws. The current unpaid federal and state laws already present a challenge, and we don’t want a new law to bring new challenges for employees or employers.

Yet, when I look at one of Vermont’s most recent changes to employment law, I see an example of something that was done right: paid sick days. This bill was developed with the input of Vermont businesses and provides a paid sick leave to employees in a way that is administratively easy. Since its passage, the state has provided an accessible and understandable webpage explaining the law and how it will affect businesses.

When this bill was up for consideration, businesses spoke up and provided input on what was needed to make administration reasonable, and the state responded. I trust the same will happen when enacting a family and medical leave insurance program, and I know the program will be more effective with voices from the business community at the table expressing their needs.
However, there is another significant concern that tends to arise with new employment laws: the cost. How much will a new program cost employers? How much will it cost employees? Luckily, Vermont has four solid state models (California, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey) to look to when structuring a family and medical leave program. Each existing state model funds the program a bit differently – some through an employee payroll deduction, others through a combination of an employee and employer contribution.

Of course there are costs to creating entirely new programs, but we must ask ourselves, what is the cost of doing nothing?

A full-time, minimum wage worker in Vermont would lose roughly $4,500 taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave under current state and federal laws. Losing wages after the birth or adoption of a child or after an unexpected illness or injury would create financial instability for families of most any income level. In fact, a 2007 study found that more than 40 percent of bankruptcies in the U.S. were the result of lost income due to unexpected serious illness. The cost of doing something is less than the cost of doing nothing.

As I mentioned, Chroma Technology already provides similar benefits. We do this because it has been repeatedly proven that employers who take care of their employees are more successful. We do this because we value a loyal, dedicated workforce. We do this because we know that when our employees are in a crisis, it impacts both the quantity and quality of their contributions to the company.

We’ve learned that minimizing the crisis up front is more effective than responding after the fact. We’ve seen that employees that push and try to return to the workplace before they are ready, take longer to be back and fully contributing. Employees who try return to work before they are ready require more resources to support.

Chroma has an advantage when we recruit because of our great benefit package. Vermont as a state having family leave program will help all of our companies and communities recruit and retain the skilled individuals we need to grow our economy.

Paid family leave isn’t a program in the best interest of the few; it’s something that will benefit us all. It’s time to get up to speed with the rest of the world and ensure that all workers have access to family and medical leave insurance.