Last week marked the anniversary of the Family Medical and Leave Act, America’s unpaid leave law. It also marks a time when we are seeing a lot of momentum around paid leave. Gallatin County passed six weeks of paid parental leave for their employees. Last year two more states enacted comprehensive paid family and medical leave programs, bringing us to eight states and the District of Columbia to have a wage replacement structure for workers caring for their families. Finally, in December of 2019, 2 million federal workers gained access to up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
We know that Montana Budget & Policy Center, as an organization, can help continue to lead the way. This past fall, MBPC put in place a comprehensive paid family and medical leave policy, giving employees access to up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, a loved one facing a serious medical condition, or for medical leave for an employee’s own serious medical condition.
We started this effort several years ago, researching and drafting an organizational paid leave plan. First and foremost, we wanted it to be more than parental leave – individuals get hurt or sick, parents age and need help, and siblings get serous illnesses. Families need each other for so much more than to welcome a new child – we are in it through the end. Our next big priority was crafting a plan that is consistent with the proposed statewide policy (and enacted in many other states) that takes into consideration that families vary. We want to make sure MBPC’s staff can take care of their own families, whether it be to care for a seriously ill parent, domestic partner, or sibling.
Designing and implementing a policy was not easy. We worked hard to ensure that our staff has the ability to take the leave when they need it while also ensuring our organization continues to thrive. We fielded many questions from our governing board about how a policy will impact the organization. Because so few businesses and nonprofits have a paid leave policy – let alone a broad one like we imagined – we didn’t have many models to look at. Fortunately, we were able to talk to several organizations across the country about the benefits they have seen from a policy. It has made their organization a stronger one, often proactively cross-training staff in other duties. Ultimately, workers know that not only is their work valued, but so is their health and the health of their families.
We are incredibly proud and are excited to show others that it is possible to prioritize the health of your workers while also being a responsible organization. Happy and productive employees make for a better business. Our team knows they will be ok during some of the best or worst times in their lives. This policy has also been an incredible recruiting and retention tool.
We want to challenge our partners in the private, nonprofit, and government sectors to look at their own policies, think beyond parental leave, and find ways to make a policy work for them.
We also know that it won’t be easy. For some organizations, like MBPC, the workload can be absorbed in house during leave. But for some small businesses, they simply cannot afford to pay someone out on leave and pay the hourly wage for their replacement. This is why we will continue to talk to businesses, legislators, and community leaders about our plan for a statewide paid family and medical leave plan, to help businesses provide this benefit. You can read our plan for the FAMLI Act in Montana here. You can also join our coalition or to tell your story at timeformontana.org.