The essays in the Commentary section are the personal views and opinions of the author.
These are not news items and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Delaware Call.

Paid Family and Medical Leave will benefit Delaware’s businesses and families

Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits Delaware — our businesses, our students, and our health. Good business means healthier families and a healthy workforce.

 · May 13, 2021
a set of hands clasping another set of hands

Paid Family and Medical Leave is good for all Delawareans. I have seen the impact on employers and employees through my personal and workplace experiences as a Family Court judge, educator, mother, and daughter. Professionally, I have witnessed families break from the stress of not having the ability to care for family members. Personally, I was forced back to work seven days after our youngest child was born because a judge denied my request to postpone the case. Although I was able to successfully complete the case, I struggled mentally and physically for much longer than I did after the birth of my first child, when I had a full 12 weeks to recover.

I have had support to get through the challenging times. Most employees in Delaware do not. We need to nurture, protect, and support the health of all Delawareans. SB1 is a step towards making Delaware healthier, having a stronger, more committed workforce, and protecting our most vulnerable residents, our children, our elderly, and our sick. The impact on employees and their employers who do not have paid family and medical leave has long term consequences for all of Delaware. Therefore, I support SB1.

During the pandemic, I have seen the toll taken on families who do not have the resources to afford the care that their children and loved ones need. Parents and guardians leaving the workforce negatively affects our students due to loss of family financial security and its ensuing stress and trauma on all family members. Families under this kind of stress can become unstable and as a result, come to need more resources that are often not met by our overburdened courts, healthcare system, social services, and nonprofit organizations. In addition, our employers lose valued employees who are often forced to leave the workforce to care for family members.

Nearly 60% of Delaware’s workers do not have access to unpaid leave, let alone paid leave, under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For those who do, many cannot afford to take unpaid time away from work to care for themselves or their family members. Thus, the choice to take leave does not really exist for many Delawareans. When faced with family medical and care issues, employees are often forced to leave the workforce, causing employers to go through the costly process of hiring and training new employees. However, studies show that paid family leave increases the likelihood of employees returning to the same employer. This is good for business, good for our economy, and good for Delaware.

Delaware’s SB1 introduces a statewide insurance program for paid family and medical leave, and is smart for business and good for our employees. The proposed legislation is like those passed in 9 states and the District of Columbia. Similar to unemployment insurance, the program creates a statewide paid leave trust fund that is funded by a small contribution evenly shared by the employer and the employee — less than a penny on the dollar in total. Businesses with fewer than 20 employees do not have to contribute to the employer part of the contribution and their employees are still covered. The legislation allows covered workers to take paid leave for a qualifying event, including one’s own serious health condition or that of a family member, or to bond with a new child. Leave is paid out by a state insurance program, not the employer. A doctor’s verification is needed, and the leave is both financially capped and ends at 12 weeks in a year. This provides small business employees a new benefit which, in many cases, comes at no cost to the employer, reduces costly turnover, and helps companies keep strong employees in the workforce. 

States that have enacted similar statewide paid leave insurance plans have seen the benefits. A study in New Jersey found that “workers subject to paid leave protections had higher morale and productivity, and businesses that offered paid leave experienced significantly lower turnover.” A poll commissioned by Small Business Majority found that a “majority of small business owners and operators support paid family leave insurance pools,” with 70 percent supporting a nationwide program.

Every year, and especially in this last year, thousands of employees, predominantly women, leave jobs to care for an ill family member. The cost to businesses, especially small businesses, is significant. However, studies show that paid family leave policies increase the likelihood that employees will return to the same employer after taking paid family leave.

Passing SB1 will help level the playing field for small businesses in Delaware at little to no cost to the employer, while providing greater stability to our workers who are often left little choice regarding whether to leave the workforce and go without pay. This makes it sound business for small businesses to support SB1.

SB1 is a significant step in providing greater economic stability to Delaware families. Having worked in the court system, I have seen the impact on both the employer and families of employees who do not have paid family and medical leave. With the additional economic stability provided by SB1, Delaware families will have better health and our children will have better education outcomes. I believe that it is our duty as Delawareans to ensure that our employees do not have to decide between going to work or caring for a family member. Together, we can provide all working Delawareans the dignity and security of paid family leave.

About the Author

Chief Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn served on the Family Court of the State of Delaware from 1998-2015. Chief Judge Kuhn was the first female judge to preside over Delaware’s Family Court. She is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our education, criminal justice, and healthcare systems. Read more from Judge Chandlee Kuhn.