The fourth quarter is the busiest time of year for most small business owners. Many of them are working overtime to meet the holiday rush and tie up loose ends before the new year—which means they’re leaning more than ever on their employees to help get things done. This busy season reinforces what small business owners already know: good employees are their best assets, and keeping workers happy and healthy is key to a strong bottom line. Small business owners can take many different steps to retain talented and productive employees, like offering higher wages or health insurance. But what many people may not know is that paid leave can be an effective benefit to help attract and retain a talented workforce.
Paid leave has been a hot topic at the national and local level. Lawmakers around the country are weighing initiatives to allow workers to earn paid sick days or implement family medical leave insurance pools. Maryland’s Montgomery County recently approved a law allowing employees to accrue a limited number of paid sick days, and in the beltway, D.C. is weighing a law that would establish an insurance pool to provide up to 16 weeks of paid family leave. Many critics argue that paid leave laws are bad for small businesses, but the reality is that small business owners have a more nuanced and pragmatic view of these policies, and many support them.
Small Business Majority has held multiple roundtables in D.C. and Maryland to have candid conversations with small business owners on paid leave. We’ve found that many small employers are in favor of paid leave because they believe it helps them retain employees and benefits their bottom lines. Additionally, Small Business Majority’s scientific opinion polling found half of small business owners nationwide would support a paid sick leave law, and 52 percent already provide paid vacation to their employees. What’s more, 59 percent support publicly-administered paid leave insurance pools that are funded by modest contributions from employees.
While these findings may go against the narrative pushed by special interest groups, which holds that small employers are universally opposed to paid leave policies, they’re not surprising if we look at the facts. For one, paid leave boosts employee morale, which reduces turnover and increases employee productivity. This helps small businesses recruit and retain top employees and cuts down on expensive overhead costs that stem from hiring and training new workers. Additionally, small business owners know that sick employees can’t do their best work. Paid leave helps sick employees recover quickly from illnesses and prevents them from passing contagions around the workplace. Finally, paid leave policies like family medical leave insurance pools level the playing field for small business owners by helping them offer an additional benefit to their employees at no cost to them. This can make a real difference for small employers who want to offer benefits traditionally reserved for big businesses.
The bottom line is that paid leave policies—whether they cover family medical leave for caretakers and new parents or sick days for all employees—can be good for small businesses. Small business owners want pragmatic policies that take into account their diverse experiences. As policymakers weigh paid leave legislation, they need to listen to real small business owners, not partisan pundits.