Opinion

We dont need another mandate

by Don C. Brunell
President, Association of
Washington Business

State lawmakers are considering yet another mandate for Washington employers. This time, it is paid family leave.
Now, everyone agrees that there are times when employees need time off to take care of personal obligations a new baby, an illness in the family, or the loss of a loved one. The question is whether a one size fits all state mandate is the way to go.
Under House Bill 1685, employees would pay a two-cent per hour payroll tax to underwrite a state-run insurance benefit that would pay $250 a week for up to five weeks of family leave. Employees would pay the tax even if they have a more generous leave program or never use the benefit.
Washington employers already comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the state Family Leave Act, the state Family Care Act, and the state maternity disability regulation. HB 1685 is different, in that it would apply to even the smallest employers, with one or two workers.
So, whats wrong with HB 1685?
First, it adds to the morass of laws employers already deal with regarding employee leave. Secondly, its inflexible, a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach that would apply equally to The Boeing Company and the corner flower shop. Third, only California has passed such a far-reaching mandate, so its ultimate fallout is unknown.
So, if HB 1685 isnt the solution, what is? Ill answer that question with a story.
At AWB, we have flexible leave policies that allow the employer and employees to work out creative solutions to specific situations. Ten years ago, we switched from sick leave to personal leave. Each employee accrues up to six days of personal leave at full salary each year, which can be banked if not used. In addition, employees can donate unused leave or vacation to another employee and the president can authorize unpaid leave, if necessary.
How does this policy work in real-life situations?
Several years ago, a longtime AWB staffer was diagnosed with the early stages of throat cancer and required major surgery and treatment at the University of Washington. He was off work for five months; then returned to a reduced and flexible work schedule. Through accumulated personal leave and vacation, he was covered at full salary until the last few weeks when fellow employees and managers donated their unused vacation to cover his remaining absence.
In the end, this staffer didnt lose a days pay. His coverage was much more than five weeks, and the pay was much more than $250 per week.
My point is that enlightened employers care. They provide good benefits, including flexible leave policies to help attract and retain loyal and dedicated employees. It is the same, whether the employer employs thousands or a handful of people.
Nevertheless, state lawmakers are considering another mandate that adds another layer of regulation for employers to deal with; and if Im a worker, Id want my tax money to go into my leave account, not someone elses.
We have a better idea. Rather than impose a one-size-fits-all mandate, wouldnt it be better for the state to publicize the various flexible leave programs that are already working in all types and sizes of companies across the state and provide incentives for employees to adopt them?
Do we really need another mandated tax and entitlement program?

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