Editorial: State’s paid leave act a win for workers

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Published: 10/3/2019 12:36:01 PM

Your next paycheck is likely to be a bit smaller starting this month, and here’s why that’s a good thing. For the first time in Massachusetts’ history, workers will have access to state-offered paid family or medical leave starting in January 2021, under a new law that kicked in Tuesday. Before employees can use this new benefit, however, the $800 million program needs to be funded. That’s why a new state office called the Department of Family and Medical Leave began collecting a payroll tax from workers this week.

Despite some grumbling from the union that represents 22,000 state employees who already receive paid leave, the idea behind the new law is solid. It makes sense to help workers more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing financial crises.

Given that most families don’t save enough for emergencies — nearly three in 10 U.S. adults have no emergency savings, and a larger number don’t have enough money to cover for unexpected expenses, according to consumer financial services company Bankrate — we can assume most households aren’t financially equipped to handle a prolonged work absence should they or a loved one get sick, or should they want to reap the proven benefits that come with bonding with a newborn baby.

Massachusetts should be proud to join five other states, and some larger companies, in offering this benefit to its residents, rather than waiting for Congress to enact legislation at the federal level that the polls show people want. Nationally, 86 percent of American workers do not have paid family leave through an employer.

Here’s how the Massachusetts program will work.

The maximum that can come out of a worker’s paycheck is 38 cents of every $100 earned, though the amount may be less depending on how much employers contribute on behalf of their employees. At that maximum rate, someone making $60,000 a year will pay $4.38 a week into the fund, or $230 a year.

Starting in 2021, eligible workers can get 12 weeks pay — capped at $850 a week — for a new baby, adoption or foster placement, to care for a family member when a health issue arises, or if a family member is called into active duty. Workers can also get 20 weeks of paid leave for a personal serious health condition, and 26 weeks to care for a family member who serves in the armed forces.

Looking at the big picture, that’s a small price for most workers to pay for an insurance policy. While federal law guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave, it doesn’t require employers to pay employees for this time off. That forces many employees to string together sick days and vacation time in order to take leave and still receive a paycheck.

Virtually all of us will need to take time off from work at some point in our lives due to a serious injury or illness, the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. When this time comes, we should not have to risk job loss or financial ruin.

Massachusetts’ new paid leave program, part of Gov. Charlie Baker’s so-called “Grand Bargain” that also included a new $15 minimum wage, is the right way to go. In the long run, it will help improve worker morale and productivity, reduce employee turnover and strengthen families.

The value to the vast majority of workers in Massachusetts can’t be underestimated.


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