© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip: news@wesa.fm

Paid Family Medical Leave Makes Sense For Small Businesses, PA Labor Department Says

Seth Wenig
People hold signs and listen to speakers during a rally for paid family leave in New York during the 2016 spring budget season. The state's paid family leave measure was later passed.

The state Department of Labor made an economic case for establishing a paid family and medical leave fund in a report issued with nine partner organizations on Wednesday.

Researchers found 69 percent of Pennsylvania employers don’t offer any form of paid family leave, though a vast majority of adults and employers polled strongly favor a statewide program that would provide it.

Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet, who contributed to the findings, said a family leave policy is vital to retaining a competitive workforce.

"Only 14 percent of workers have access to any kind of paid family or medical leave right now, but 100 percent of workers will at some time need to take care of themselves because of some sort of accident or injury or illness, or have to care for someone else in their family," she said.

A plan proposed in the report would have eligible workers help cover the fund through a small salary deduction between 0.4 and 1.2 percent of their salaries. Family leave could include caring for a family member who’s aging or has a serious health condition; child birth, adoption and fostering; or taking time away for a personal medical need.

The federal standard guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid time, but only for full-time workers employed at large businesses. Researchers found 21 percent of Pennsylvanians couldn't afford to take that benefit even if they wanted to.

Amanda Ballantyne, national director of contributing organization Main Street Alliance, said the study supports the cause for comprehensive state legislation, especially for small business owners who aren’t beholden to FMLA and can’t promise workers their jobs will still be there if and when employees are able to return.

"Paid family and medical leave programs enable small businesses to compete on a level playing field with larger employers, reduce turnover costs, provide an important safety net for business owners themselves and support the local economy,” Ballantyne said in a release.

The fund could also be used for people entering opioid treatment facilities or for those whose family members are need support after rehabilitation. New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., Washington State and California have each enacted similar programs.

The report was funded by a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2016. View it in full here

Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.