Paid family and medical leave supporters say statewide program good for business, employees

By: - February 13, 2020 12:45 am

The effect of a lack of paid family leave on small businesses and women of color were significant issues brought up in the second hearing on a bill to provide a statewide leave program.

A small businessowner and mother argued that paid family and medical leave made good business sense, but wasn’t always affordable for the many small businesses in Ohio.

As the founder and president of Geben Communications, Heather Whaling didn’t have to worry about whether she could take time off or whether her job would still be there when she returned after an emergency cesarean section to deliver her son in 2013, who was then in the neonatal intensive care unit for 13 days.

“For nearly two weeks, I was singularly focused on doing whatever I could do to get him healthy and home,” Whaling said.

Whaling recognized that her situation was ideal, in that owning her own business gave her the option to come back to work when she felt ready. 

She also extended those benefits to her company once the staff grew.

Now, her staff are allowed 10 weeks of leave with 100 percent of their salary for new parents, whether they give birth or adopt. She said having the peace of mind of a family leave program helps her employees in productivity and morale, but also makes her business appealing in recruitment as well. 

The business takes on the cost of this benefit because there is no statewide program.

“But, that’s a luxury most Ohioans don’t have,” Whaling said in supporting House Bill 91.

In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a blanket paid family leave policy. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 exists as the only leave policy, but it is an unpaid system, and only eligible for those that have worked at the same job for at least a year at a company with 50 or more employees.

Those testifying also cited the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found only 19% of American workers have access to paid family leave through employers, and only 40% receiving short-term disability insurance as a benefit of their job.

According to a 2017 report on paid medical leave done by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, “many of the bottom 40 percent of households (by income) are ineligible for job-protected unpaid leave under FMLA because they are employed in small firms… exempt from the law or because they do not meet the eligibility requirements in terms of hours worked with their current employers.”

This disproportionately affects women, specifically women of color, according to Linda Kanney, public policy chair for central Ohio’s chapter of the non-profit National Coalition for 100 Black Women.

“These policies have left behind the workers who need access to the policies the most,” Kanney said. “The consequences of inaction are especially severe for women of color.”

This was only the second hearing the bill has had since it was introduced in March of last year. Those testifying asked for further hearings to allow more people personally affected by a lack of paid leave programs to give their perspectives.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.