Paid family leave is good for business and communities  

Legislature should make it a priority in new session  

AT SOME POINT in everyone’s life, a serious personal or family medical emergency happens. Individuals receive an unexpected diagnosis. An elderly parent’s health rapidly declines. A family member faces a terminal illness.

That’s why I’m compelled to support the paid family and medical leave bill passed by the state Senate at the end of the just concluded legislative session. The bill was not taken up by the House before lawmakers adjourned their formal sessions for the year, but it should be a priority when they reconvene in January.

As the CEO of Shorelight Education, a growing company with nearly 300 employees worldwide, I understand that when our employees are healthy and productive, our business will be successful. As a father, I believe that people shouldn’t have to choose between working at the job they need and caring for the family they love.

Paid family and medical leave would allow all Massachusetts workers to take job-protected, paid time off from work to take care of their health or the health of a loved one without the risk of losing their job or facing financial ruin, and ensure that all parents can take the time they need to nurture and bond with their new children.

I’ve been a CEO in the Boston business community since 1999, and been the CEO at Shorelight since January 2013. I know that paid family and medical leave allows my team to be healthy and focused when they’re at work. When employees can take time off when they or a close family member is sick, or after the birth of a child, they are healthier and more productive when they come back to work, and the reduction in turnover is a big money saver. That’s good for our business.

I’m also a husband to an amazing wife and a dad to three wonderful children, so it’s important to me that paid family and medical leave allows parents to care for new additions to families, or to help loved ones through illnesses. Paid family and medical leave also keeps money in the pockets of working families during a medical emergency, allowing them to keep paying the bills, shopping for groceries, and buying clothes for their kids, thus keeping the local economy strong. That’s good for all of our families.

Many small business owners in Massachusetts can’t afford to offer paid leave right now because with only a few employees, the cost of paying both the employee taking leave and their replacement for several weeks could be too much to afford all at once. But because the Senate’s bill creates a state trust fund for paid family and medical leave that pays benefits to the employees who take leave under the law, small businesses could offer their employees paid leave for just a few dollars per worker per week. A UMass Boston study of an earlier draft of the bill estimated that the program would have a weekly cost of just $3.06 per employee. By pooling costs and risk together, all businesses could offer this important benefit that helps our employees and our bottom lines.

California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have had paid family and medical leave for years, and both workers and businesses report positive effects. Six years after California’s law was implemented, 89 to 99 percent of employers reported that paid family and medical leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity, profitability/performance, turnover, and employee morale. Earlier this year, New York became the fourth state to pass a paid family and medical leave law, and Massachusetts now has a chance to be next.

Paid family and medical leave is a win-win-win policy. Good for workers and their families, good for business, and good for our economy. It’s about time we made it happen.

Meet the Author

Tom Dretler, CEO of Shorelight Education and member of the board of directors of the Alliance for Business Leadership.