Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Debate on Paid Family Leave

A recent article on in which a conservative columnist slammed a proposed paid family leave law sparked some interesting comments, leading me to revisit my own feelings about government-mandated paid family leave.

In recent years, I have come to the conclusion that paid family leave is acceptable only if it is offered to all—not just parents, or caregivers of family members. Paid leave is a benefit, like a health care plan, and should be available to all. It should be treated like paid vacation time. Nobody should be told how to spend their vacation time; likewise nobody should have to “qualify” for paid leave.

In this economy government-mandated paid leave is a hard sell; it’s a luxury during a time when some companies are not able to afford decent health care plans or matching funds for 401k plans. It is unwise for a government to mandate this benefit with no regard as to a companies’ ability to fund it.

Elizabeth Hovde, The Oregonian columnist who wrote “Paid family leave? Let's give it a deserved rest,” agrees:

Paid family leave -- which is typically used for time off with newborns and sometimes used for employees needing to care for ailing family members -- suggests that our personal choices and circumstances are others' burdens to bear.

They aren't. Choosing to start a family or deciding to care for loved ones is something individuals should plan for -- emotionally and financially. While employers and co-workers have every right to be generous with their money and could choose to donate time or pay an employee to take time off for family, the government has no business being so generous with people's hourly wages.
At the center of this debate is the issue of fairness. I believe the only way to be fair is to offer paid family leave as one in a menu of benefits and invite each employee to choose the ones they want, up to a set monetary value; single employees might choose a gym membership, employees with children might choose “paid family leave.” Given that the “household with children” demographic is shrinking, perhaps it is time we drop the “family” from paid family leave. Companies should be free to offer “paid leave” as a quality of life benefit (acknowledging that employees can benefit from time off to care for family members, pets, or themselves) but they shouldn’t be forced to do so.

The incentive to offer this benefit is already evident; companies that do so are more likely to attract employees who, if they value their work and the benefits, will stay longer and companies will save money in training, employee turnover, and unplanned absenteeism.

Everyone can benefit from a paid leave, and everyone should.

1 comment:

Kavey said...

An old post but have just discovered it. And goodness, yes. I agree!

"Choosing to start a family or deciding to care for loved ones is something individuals should plan for -- emotionally and financially."

As you have said, it's incomprehensible to me, in an age of over-population and limited resources, that we are still rewarding the choice to have kids, and having those who do not have kids help to pay for it. Subsidise it, effectively.

For a long time, my husband and I (childfree by choice and early deciders) have expressed this view point.

Of course, since having kids is still the majority situation, such changes will never get voted in, regardless of the fact that they are fairer.

Many friends with kids aknowledge the fairness of allowing those without kids to have similar paid leave benefits but choose to use for other reasons, but also admit they'd never vote for them.

Self-interest is a strong motivator.

I don't mind paying for many things, such as a strong education, regardless of not having kids myself. I want kids in my country to have the benefits of a good education and I agree it should be provided by taxpayers.

But there also needs to be an aknowledgement that having children is a choice, not some kind of duty.