The Town Board in Moreau does not appear to be in favor of adopting a paid family leave program.
When one councilman was asked if there were any benefits to the program, he replied, “I got nothing.”
Well, hold on there cowboy.
We think the new law deserves a little more vetting than it got in Moreau, where the insurance carrier misrepresented some of the ways employees can use paid leave — no, you can’t use it to babysit your teen — and neglected to point out any of its benefits.
If you haven’t heard, all private employers in New York will be required to allow employees paid family leave — escalating from 8 weeks in 2018 to 12 weeks in 2021 — to bond with a new child or care for a close relative with a serious health condition.
The program will be implemented in stages, with eight weeks at 50 percent salary in 2018, 10 weeks at 55 percent salary in 2019, 10 weeks at 60 percent salary in 2020 and 12 weeks at 67 percent salary in 2021.
The program builds on the federal government’s Family Medical Leave Act, which has been on the books since 1993, but is unpaid. While municipalities are subject to FMLA, they are not mandated to adopt New York’s paid program. They can opt in if they choose. We believe other town and village boards will be having this discussion as well, if they have not already.
The concern expressed during the Moreau meeting was that if a person with unique responsibilities — such as an assessor — were to utilize the program, it would shut down a vital service the town provides and lead to added expenses when temporary workers are needed.
While this is probably accurate — and private companies would face the same problems — let’s look at it from a different perspective.
Say you have a good tax assessor. The person has experience in the job and with the community. We believe that an experienced tax assessor is something to be valued.
So, faced with a temporary family crisis — a parent’s broken hip or a spouse’s battle with cancer — the assessor is left in a difficult position that might hurt his job performance or cause him to look for other work. The town is left with a vacant position while it searches for a replacement who may need training while learning the intricacies of the community.
This will also cost the town money, especially if mistakes are made in assessments.
Over the years, many studies have been done that show turnover costs companies money. There is down time, training, reduced production and the mistakes that come with someone learning a new job.
Most good companies consider retention important for employees, and some provide benefits above and beyond what competitors provide to reduce turnover, including paid family leave. In recent years, many employers have provided working mothers and fathers flexibility for when they work in order to keep valuable employees happy and engaged.
It’s sad we don’t see more of this thinking in the business world where employees often seem to be undervalued and replaceable.
Consider that the only countries in the civilized world that do not mandate paid maternity leave are Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the United States.
We bet most of you would have a hard time finding the first three on a map.
Consider how some other countries address paid family leave:
In Sweden, parents are given 480 paid leave days per child, which can be used between mom or dad.
Spain offers 112 paid days.
The United Kingdom offers 280 days with 90 percent pay.
France offers 112 paid days.
Italy offers 140 days with 80 percent pay.
Even Russia offers 140 paid days.
Studies suggest that low-wage workers are more likely to return to work when they receive paid leave and that it may often boost productivity and morale in the workplace.
None of this came up during the Moreau meeting.
We’ve heard a lot over the years about why elderly parents are shoved into nursing homes — because the children are too busy working? — or whether latchkey kids encounter more problems than children with a parent at home?
We believe that happy workers are productive workers. And workers are grateful for employers who will work with them during a crisis.
Properly policed — and paid family leave must be approved according to the agreed-upon state criteria — this is an opportunity for private companies and public municipalities to take a step forward for their employees.
It’s worth a longer and more in-depth discussion than it got in Moreau.