Time to revisit paid family leave

We need forward-thinking and creative policies to make it work for Vermonters to work in Vermont

BRATTLEBORO — Because my company works with many different types of businesses, and the people who work in them, we get to see an interesting cross section of the workplace. Some situations are unique, but more often the similarities remind us that people are people are people.

This common thread of humanity is most apparent when it comes to the dual impact that family needs and work responsibilities have on individuals. At times, it feels more like “Family Needs versus Work Responsibilities: The Epic Showdown” (read this with a booming WWE announcer voice, please).

But do these two parts of our lives need to be in opposition to each other? Can we have a more integrated (not balanced, but integrated) life?

I think it's possible. And one step in that direction is to reduce the financial burden many employees suffer when they need to take time off to care for their families.

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Nearly every working Vermonter at some point will need to take time away from work to care for a family member in some way (i.e. bond with a new child, help a family member with a serious illness, etc.). However, very few Vermonters have access to paid parental leave or family leave through their employer.

Although the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act guarantees many employees the ability to take this time off (under certain conditions and for a specified period of time), it does not require the leave to be paid.

What does this look like? New parents can have 12 weeks off to spend with a new baby or child (birth or adoption), but unless they have 12 weeks of paid time off accrued, they are facing three months without pay.

Who can afford to do that?

Many businesses want to be able to offer their employees paid time off. Understandably, this is not a cost that most can bear.

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Fortunately, a statewide paid-family-leave program would eliminate this dilemma for small businesses across the state.

The innovation and ingenuity that small businesses bring to Vermont contribute to its economic vitality, as well as to the state's attractiveness as a place to live. To nurture both, we need forward-thinking and creative policies to make it work for Vermonters to work in Vermont.

Last year, we had a chance to pass such a law. The House and Senate approved legislation, which would have been funded by a very small payroll reduction (0.5 percent), which could be shared by the employer.

However, the bill was vetoed by the governor.

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Heading into the 2019 Legislative session, I urge all Vermonters to contact their senators and representatives to encourage them to revisit this legislation and work toward a veto-proof majority.

We need to address our workforce challenges with smart policies that reflect the reality of family needs and the business landscape in Vermont - helping small businesses and the people who work there.

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