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Family Matters

Could giving employees paid family leave actually leave your company stronger?

Marie C. Wilson is the president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, which aims to improve the lot and lives of girls and women. But don't let it be said that Wilson isn't looking out for the "Mister," too. The Ms. Foundation (www.msfoundation.org) changed its famous Take Our Daughters to Work Day last month to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, because they hope to mold the minds of boys as well. But Wilson's commitment to family in the workplace doesn't end there: She's a proponent of the controversial idea of paid family leave. At least 27 states are considering passing it into law, and it's due to become a reality in California in July 2004: After up to two weeks' vacation has been used, an employee can take up to six weeks of paid leave, at 50 to 60 percent salary, to care for a family member, be it a parent or a newborn. Although employees will be paid from a self-funded account (similar to disability benefits), not every entrepreneur is thrilled. We asked Wilson why they should be.

Most entrepreneurs probably say "Nice plan, but there's no way I can afford to give employees so much time off." How is this a good deal for the entrepreneur?

Marie C. Wilson: Studies show when employees can take some time away from work to handle crises, they're happier and more productive. This isn't full paid leave, so employees aren't going to make this decision lightly. But it's a safety net, and if it's not there, you're going to pay full price for a lot of lost productivity.

But employees can already take care of a child or parent using unpaid leave.

Wilson: Yes, but not everybody can afford six weeks off without salary, so somebody ends up suffering, and it's usually the powerless, like a sick child or a newborn. And many workers don't take advantage of the laws that are already there for them, because they're afraid of being ostracized. The perception is "If you leave to take care of your family, you're not a loyal employee."

What impact are you hoping paid family leave will make?

Wilson: One of the best things about paid family leave is that it could help change the corporate culture. By letting your employees know you support paid family leave, you can send the message to your employees that their family lives and personal growth matter to you. Ultimately, that's going to make your company stronger and attract more qualified people.


Geoff Williams is a writer in Cincinnati. He can be contacted at gwilliams1@cinci.rr.com.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the May 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Family Matters.

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