Connecticut lawmakers are debating a big change to the state’s Family Medical Leave Act. There’s a push to pay workers who take an extended leave of absence.
Right now, businesses are required to allow employees up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave. The new proposal would give workers 12 weeks of paid leave through an employee-funded system.
“A lot of small businesses want to offer the benefit and can’t really afford it. With our system they would be able to offer it at no cost to them,” explained Catherine Bailey, chairwoman of Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave.
Matt Arciuolo isn’t waiting for the law to change. He runs Arciuolo Shoes, which has been in his family in downtown Milford for 95 years. Arciuolo only has half a dozen employees, which means he doesn’t have to give workers paid leave under current Connecticut law.
”I think it’s common sense for an employer to give its employees a sense of security,” explained Arciuolo.
Currently, only businesses with 50 or more employees are required to give unpaid leave. The new proposal would require paid leave for companies with two or more employees.
Supporters are quick to point out the employee-funded system wouldn’t negatively impact business. Instead, a percentage of workers' paychecks would be held back each week to cover the cost of future leave.
“The misperception that if anything is good for workers, it is therefore de facto, bad for business,” said State Rep. Peter Tercyak, a Democrat who represents New Britain and also serves as co-chair of the Labor Committee.
Sarah Orris hopes company executives will walk a mile in her shoes.
“It was terrifying to think that I would go without a paycheck,” said Orris.
The public school speech pathologist spent weeks away from work, caring for her daughter Natalie after surgery for a genetic disorder. She only got paid for five days.
“I was just floored because critical illness lasts longer than five days, and I absolutely had to take that time. I had really no options,” Orris said.
With medical bills mounting, she went back to work sooner than she wanted.
“I absolutely wasn’t going to lose my job. My job was supportive, and my boss would give me anything I needed, except for a paycheck,” she explained.
It’s stories like this that make Arciuolo glad to give his half dozen employees paid leave and he hopes others will follow, regardless of whether the law passes.
“It’s a business expense; same way as keeping the lights on, same way as paying payroll,” he explained.