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Policy Points: How Family-Friendly Work Laws Will Strengthen the Economy


By Zach Bernstein

Close to seven years after the Great Recession, the U.S. economy continues to make some strides back to full health, but progress has been slow and often uneven. That’s especially true for women – though many of these discrepancies, from the pay gap to gaps in the labor force participation rate, have existed for a long time.

We’ve written before about the importance of programs like paid family leave, both for workers and for the economy as a whole. Now, it’s true these issues don’t only affect women – any worker, male or female, could need to take time off to care for a sick family member, and should have access to paid leave – but the data indicates that women are far more likely than men to take time off from work to care for a child or family member.

It’s a self-evident point: If women, who made up 47 percent of the workforce in 2010, are facing this many problems, our economy is going to continue to leave a lot of gains on the table. Luckily, there are ways to make sure we’re not.

A mission to improve the economy ...

Last month, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) joined with #MissionPossible, a campaign to support an economic agenda that helps women and families succeed. This is a fairly broad program, encompassing a range of issues from paid family leave and earned sick days to equal pay and affordable childcare. All of them are designed to make life easier for working women.

The event last month featured several advocacy groups, as well as members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And at a time when passing any legislation can seem like a massive struggle, this endorsement was good news.

Legislation for Family Medical Leave Insurance and paid sick days has been re-introduced in Congress, and there continues to be more movement on the state level. Meanwhile, one of the first pieces of legislation passed under President Barack Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to seek legal remedies if they were the victims of wage discrimination. Progress continues to be made, but there’s still work to be done.

... Should you choose to accept it

Of course, the business case for issues like these is strong. Any employee benefit, whether it's paid time off to deal with an illness or following childbirth, equal pay, or childcare, ultimately results in the same thing: happier, more productive employees.

Think of it like this: There’s probably been a time when you came in to work feeling a little stressed about something else going on in your life. Were you as productive as you normally are? The answer is: probably not. And if you’re not as productive, your company isn’t going to do as well.

Then there’s the other side: Employees who find a better offer elsewhere, at a company that offers better pay or benefits, usually decide to take it. Even if their old company doesn’t have a problem finding someone to replace them, the time it takes to go through the hiring process and train a replacement is also bad for the bottom line, especially if other employees have to pick up the slack in the meantime -- maybe making them feel more stressed, and also less productive.

As ASBC’s campaigns manager, Greta Twombly, noted: "Businesses big and small are recognizing that a valued employee is a more efficient and productive employee. They’re already reaping the benefits that come along with that, and when legislation like the FAMILY Act and Healthy Families Act passes, those benefits will extend to the entire workforce, which in turn will boost the entire economy."

And that, ultimately, is the point. A number of businesses have stated their support for this kind of legislation, because they know it’s a benefit for them. One of them stated that support clearly during the meeting with Pelosi last month.

“[Eileen Fisher] is committed to our employees, through a strong family and medical leave policy as well as other key benefits that put our employees first,” said Eileen Fisher, the fashion label’s founder and chief creative officer. “As a result of these efforts, we have greatly prospered. We know this important legislation will help employees and businesses across the country thrive.”

For that to happen we need Congress to step up and pass this legislation, bringing us into line with every other developed country in the world when it comes to paid maternity leave or sick days.

That’s the best argument for this legislation, and why it’s so important for businesses and business groups to get involved. It’s not just an issue of taking care of women or families, as laudable as that is – it’s about making America stronger, and more competitive, for everyone.

Image credit: Flickr/Carissa Rogers

Zach Bernstein is Research Manager for the American Sustainable Business Council.

Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Vice President – Public Policy and Business Engagement.

American Sustainable Business Council headshotAmerican Sustainable Business Council

The <a href="http://asbcouncil.org">American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)</a> is a network of companies and business associations. Its column, Policy Points, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process. The goal is to arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more green and sustainable. The column editor is Richard Eidlin, ASBC's Vice President - Public Policy and Business Engagement.

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