We All Will Be Caretakers — Time for Paid Leave | The Bell Policy Center

We All Will Be Caretakers — Time for Paid Leave

Date: May 10, 2017

My friend was only 40 when she was diagnosed with melanoma. She had surgery and endured weeks of exhausting immunotherapy. Maybe you were like her. Or maybe, like my aunt, you needed to take care of your mom, whose memory had faded to the point where she couldn’t remember to turn off her faucets. Or it’s possible you were like me, with a baby born 10 weeks early. In addition to recovering from childbirth and pumping milk for my 3 lb. 5 oz. preemie, I wanted to spend every moment in the hospital at my son’s side.

At some point in our lives, we all will be caretakers. Or, we will need a loved one to care for us. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private sector jobs come with extended time off to recover from illness or to care for family members. We need better solutions for all workers.

That’s why I was proud that the Bell was part of the coalition that advanced HB17-1307, the Family Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. FAMLI would have created an employee-funded insurance program. Under the plan, employees could use the funds for paid time off from work to care for a sick loved one, be home with a new baby or deal with their own serious illness. The program also guaranteed that employees could return to their same or equivalent job and ensured protection from discrimination or retaliation from employers. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate after passing in the House. This idea has been debated in Colorado, but this year it gained more traction than ever before. I’m certain that support for this common-sense idea will continue to grow.

A FAMLI-style insurance program would put Colorado in the vanguard of states — along with California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C — that are trying to reshape workplace benefits to support the personal realities we all face. The Colorado plan was tailored to meet our state’s unique fiscal realities, and would have used an innovative bonding mechanism to finance start-up costs, which helps our state budget.

Ample research supports the benefits of paid leave. Employees are more loyal and satisfied, and as a result, employers benefit from decreased turnover and increased profits. Both caregivers and those needing help have better health outcomes. Workers who know they are not bankrupting themselves to take time off can do a better job of earning and saving money over the long run. Paid leave can ensure they keep building career momentum.

While these findings are key, paid leave also matters on a much deeper level. I had a healthy pregnancy and never expected my son would arrive more than two months before his due date. He needed oxygen and feeding tubes and was hooked up to sensors and monitors for much of his NICU stay. During that scary time, I tried to focus all my energy on my baby. I didn't have the mental, emotional or physical bandwidth to worry about job security and paying my bills. And I didn’t have to. I worked for an employer that had generous benefits and leave policies. I had saved up a great deal of sick and vacation time and knew I could return to my job. Most new moms aren't so lucky.

The public overwhelmingly supports insurance programs like FAMLI, which is one reason why we’ll see this bill again. I’ll proudly keep advocating for paid leave until its promise becomes reality.