Federal law already protects the jobs of people who are having a child, caring for a sick parent, or treating themselves after a catastrophic injury. But they don’t get paid. Now Maryland lawmakers are pushing for a bill to create an insurance fund that would pay a portion of their salary to someone who takes family and medical leave.
The bill creates a state fund into which employers and employees would pay a small amount from each paycheck, and workers who need family and medical leave could apply and receive a portion of their weekly pay.
It would cover people like Heidi Lewis, who was pregnant with her second child, when she told her employer, a large independent bookstore in Washington, DC, that the 10-day paid parental leave they were offering wasn’t profitable.
“I knew that 10 days after having a child, I would be in no condition to return to work,” she said. “By 10 days I knew what a new mom looked like. And I can tell you, this is not a person you want to sit at a desk.”
Her boss agreed and extended the leave to 10 weeks on part pay. The District of Columbia issued a similar policy shortly thereafter. Now Lewis, who lives in Silver Spring, says Maryland should do the same. Calling it a productivity issue, she asks employers what kind of employees they want.
“Do you want a rested, centered, balanced employee you hired,” she wondered. “Or would you want someone who was exhausted, in pain from a difficult delivery or childbirth, to breastfeed 24/7, exhausted?”
Antonio Hayes, the Baltimore Democrat who is supporting the Senate bill and a father-to-be, says he already has that kind of vacation, but most Marylanders don’t, “especially those who are on the higher entry levels or are low-income earners have it they don’t have that kind of vacation available.”
This means that parents often have to return to work earlier than desired in order to get paid.
“And know that not being able to spend time with a newborn child in the early stages leads to other problems,” he said.
Andrew Griffin, vice president for government affairs at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, was concerned about the cost to small businesses and nonprofits and that the state, not employers, controls how vacations are taken.
“That an employer can’t have any control over when their employees take vacation time is, honestly, a pretty hard pill to swallow,” he said.
In addition, employers feared that the program could be abused.
“This would be the only furlough program enacted, either at the state or federal level, where there was no way for the employer to report fraud and abuse and whatnot. That is not allowed in this law.”
Jayson Williams, who runs Mayson Dixon Companies, a Baltimore-based construction, consulting and property management firm, set up a program at his company after a co-worker told him she was pregnant and wanted to take 12 weeks off postpartum to take care of her child.
“I thought it would be the right thing to do a policy in my shop where I gave her part of her salary just so I knew she would come back to me and she was very grateful for that,” he said. “And I just made the decision on my own to do it.”
He says the policy has helped him retain employees and save money in the long run.
“Think about how much money you spend to recruit someone, to bring them on board and bring them into your company where they become a functioning part of your business and help grow your bottom line,” he said he. “Losing an employee is more expensive for me than keeping one.”
The family and health insurance bill is scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee on Thursday. A hearing on the house version is scheduled for next week.