Ohio state reps propose 12-week paid family leave plan if employees have new child or a sick relative

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – When Amberly Carricher gave birth to her first daughter, Chloe, she took unpaid leave from her job under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

When the time came for her to return to work, Carricher and her husband decided she would stay home to continue caring for Chloe.

“We just couldn’t bear our child going into a daycare situation, being as tiny as she was,” Carricher said. “So we decided that I was going to stay home.”

Chloe is now two and a half years old, and Carricher remains a stay-at-home mother to her and Cora, nine months.

“The first baby is always a trial and error situation,” Carricher said of her time at home. “It was joyous. I got to see the first laugh, I got to see the first crawl, you know? And when she needed me, I was there.”

Carricher said she was fortunate to have the financial ability to stay at home with her daughters, but it’s not an option for every Ohio family.

State representatives unveiled a proposal on Tuesday that would allow Ohio workers to take 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a sick relative or after the birth or adoption of a child. Sponsored by Rep. Christie Kuhns (D-Cincinnati) and Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights), the Family and Medical Leave Insurance program would begin in 2020 under the direction of the Department of Job and Family Services.

The bill proposes an employee-funded system, in which all workers would see small deductions in their paychecks, for a total of about $25 to $50 per year. Employers could choose to pay those amounts on behalf of employees.

Kuhns, who said she gave birth to her son one year ago, noted that many Ohio families cannot afford to take advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

“We have many families throughout Ohio that have jobs that welcome a new child into their families, that have serious health conditions,” Kuhns said. “As someone who recently went through that experience, and also as someone who suffers from two autoimmune disorders that I have to manage on a daily basis, I think this is something that we all need to rally behind.”

Workers would be eligible under this proposed program if the leave is to care for a new child, a sick relative or their own health condition. Workers would file a claim after working at least 680 hours and having deductions withheld for at least one year. The proposed benefit, Kuhns said, would provide up to $1,000 per week, based on workers’ average weekly wages in a tiered system, much like unemployment compensation.

Rep. Janine Boyd said the goal of the program was to give families “the time they need to heal, to recover, to bond and to care for each other.”

The sponsors noted the bill would require an actuarial analysis that would likely cost approximately $400,000, paid for either by foundation grants or a fiscal allocation. The analysis would help determine how much workers would have deducted from their paycheck and whether it would be a set amount or on a sliding scale.

Carricher said she thought the proposed bill was a good start.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Carricher said. “I would like to see it be a year like some of these other countries, because really, for the first year, your child is developing and they need you.”

Because the program is employee-funded, it may not be as difficult to get small businesses involved, according to Michaela Hahn Burriss of Small Business Majority.

On the phone Wednesday, Hahn Burriss told NBC4 her organization has conducted national scientific opinion polls of small business owners about family leave. She said that when programs are employee-funded rather than employer-sponsored, the margin of support among small business owners increases.

Hahn Burriss also said that when employees take leave, the majority of small business owners said they do not see a decrease in productivity and that they adjust the workload among remaining employees, rather than hiring an additional person or contract out the work.

Don DePerro, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, noted that while small businesses may not be able to bear the costs of an employee paid leave program on their own, they are not opposed to programs to keep workers happy.

“People want their time off, people want to take leave for their family, for personal reasons, for all types of reasons,” DePerro said. “So flexibility in the workplace is something we’re going to see more and more of as time goes on.”

At Tuesday’s press conference to unveil the proposed legislation, Gail Dudley, a small business owner, said that the bill could boost employee morale. She observed that many young people looking for jobs ask about things other than salary.

“What are the benefits and is there a paid leave that is going to be available?” said Dudley, the owner of Ready Publication. “That is going to help us attract the most talent and top talent.”

Hahn Burriss of Small Business Majority and the sponsors of the bill both said there could be a small administrative burden to create the system of paycheck deductions but compared it to other payroll deductions, such as Social Security and Medicare.

For another mother, Miria Biller Hendrickson of Columbus, the cost per year would be small to help families have time at home with new babies.

“Pregnancy is a huge ordeal, but then after you have the baby, everything is flipped on its head,” Biller Hendrickson said.

Biller Hendrickson said her husband is a physician who is completing fellowships and that she chose to stay at home, rather than work as a teacher, because it was more cost effective. But she, too, said it wasn’t possible for many families.

“A mom could take 12 weeks paid and the dad could then take 12 weeks paid, and at least that would buy them six months at home with their baby where they can both bond with the child, where they can have more time to figure out what is the best option for them moving forward,” Biller Hendrickson said.

Currently, only a handful of other states require paid leave: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington D.C. In New York State, a bill was recently passed to offer parental leave for up to 12 weeks.

This week, San Francisco passed a law requiring employers to pay full wages to employees for six weeks of paid leave.

In Ohio, Cincinnati and Dayton both offer paid family leave for city workers.

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