The Legislature is considering a proposal, L.D. 1964, that would provide Maine workers with paid family and medical leave coverage. It is time for Maine to join the increasing number of states, along with almost every other country in the world, in offering this critical benefit.
When it comes to programs like paid leave, we often first consider the impact on employer costs and productivity. But those issues miss the bigger picture. Paid family and medical leave is not only good for employees – it is good for business.
When dealing with a health issue or the need to care for a loved one, many are faced with a hard choice: Take unpaid time off or try to manage the situation while working. Many people cannot take unpaid time off without facing serious financial hardship. The result is a stressed, distracted employee who is likely not doing their best work – and struggling to properly address their own needs. This can cost employers more than if an employee is simply away from work for a time. When workers are able to take paid leave to deal with a personal health issue, welcome a new child or care for an ailing loved one, they come back to work healthier, less stressed and ready to be fully productive.
At Sun Life we introduced a paid leave benefit in 2020 for our employees that is one of the most generous and inclusive programs in the country. And yet, we believe the program has actually not cost us anything. That’s right – likely nothing. The reason is that, in most cases, we have not had to replace the temporarily absent employee. For companies like ours, employees can come together to cover a colleague’s work while the person is on leave. In cases where we have had to hire a temporary worker to cover for the absent employee, there is a short-term cost. But when the employee on leave has returned, we have avoided the significant, even greater cost of turnover, such as recruiting, hiring and training a brand-new employee – not to mention the value of retaining a valuable and experienced colleague who has returned to work with new focus and commitment.
I realize that, for some employers in industries like hospitality, manufacturing and retail, it may be more challenging to go without an employee for several weeks. The temporary expense to replace an absent employee is real. However, that cost would be effectively covered by the proposed paid leave program. For employers who wish to manage this themselves instead of paying the state premium, private options would also be available.
I have seen the positive results from employees being able to take paid leave. When workers feel supported, they are more motivated and committed to their jobs. At the same time, it means they don’t experience the struggle of balancing work and personal obligations, particularly when facing a serious challenge like a health issue or sick loved one. I still remember the employee who shared her experience with me and concluded by saying, “I will never leave Sun Life.”
We must develop a new perspective: What is good for workers is also good for business and the economy. When people can take time off without the worry of losing pay, they stay in the workforce, show deeper dedication to their jobs, develop more commitment to their employers and, most importantly, see healthier outcomes for themselves and their families. Paid family and medical leave is the right thing to do. Let’s do it now for Maine.
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