Today, Vermont became the fifth state to pass paid sick leave legislation, joining Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and 24 local jurisdictions now enjoying the many benefits of paid sick leave policies.
The momentum behind paid sick time is part of a wave of family-friendly policies, including paid family and medical leave, sweeping the country. Employers also understand that these benefits are ultimately good for their bottom line: standing by workers when they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones lowers employee turnover and improves productivity. And research shows that the cost of doing nothing is too high, not just for workers and their families, but also their employers.
At the Department of Labor, we are committed to expanding paid sick leave and paid family leave to more workers by amplifying state and local action, convening stakeholders and funding research. Secretary Tom Perez and I have traveled to a number of cities and states to lift up grassroots campaigns and highlight “high road” employers who see the bottom-line benefits of paid leave policies. Last month, we visited three states that are making progress on paid family leave and/or paid sick time legislation: Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts.
In Minneapolis, Secretary Perez hosted a regional summit on worker voice, where a significant part of the discussion focused on paid sick leave. The participants echoed a value that President Obama put forth in the White House Worker Voice Summit in October 2015, that “if you work hard in America, you should be able to take care of those you love.”
Throughout the day, Secretary Perez spoke with people who are leading on leave – greater Twin Cities area Mayors Hodges, Coleman and Goettel; legislative leadership; representatives from the business community; and paid leave coalition members and advocates. And during the secretary’s visit, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced a proposal to give state employees six weeks of paid parental leave, joining over two dozen other jurisdictions with a similar policy.
In Montpelier, Vermont, I visited popular local eatery Three Penny Taproom for a roundtable discussion with employers and legislators on expanding paid sick leave, organized by the Vermont Main Street Alliance and Paid Sick Days Coalition. Employers in a wide range of industries, from technology to sporting goods, told me that paid sick leave is the right thing to do for workers, businesses, and public health. Shortly after my visit, the Vermont Senate and House passed the paid sick leave bill, and today, the bill was signed into law by the governor.
In Boston, I participated in a panel discussion hosted by State Rep. Ken Gordon and State Sen. Karen Spilka, key sponsors of paid leave legislation in the state. In a packed hearing room at the State House, employers of all sizes – Google, Spotify, and local businesses Tamr and InkHouse PR – emphasized the importance of paid family leave to an audience of business leaders, stakeholders and other legislators.
For Spotify, offering paid parental leave for all new parents has helped the company retain employees and save on recruiting, training and on-boarding costs. Tamr and Google have had similar experiences. Tamr provides paid parental leave and other benefits because replacing an employee costs two to three times the employee’s annual salary. And according to Liz Schwab, a Google public affairs manager, when the company increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks in 2008, the retention rate for new mothers increased by 50 percent.
All across the country, more employers are recognizing the value of giving workers the tools they need to be great employees, and more workers are speaking up together to ask for it. Building on the momentum in Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts, we are confident that expanding paid leave is not a matter of if, but when.
Chris Lu is the deputy secretary of labor.