More family time, better bottom line?

Some NH businesses are embracing progressive family leave policies

While federal law protects those needing to take time off to take care of their families, some companies in New Hampshire are extending the time employees can take off, and paying them while they are gone.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions, to bond with a new child, or to prepare for military deployment. Your job is “protected,” meaning you can return to your position after the leave. The FMLA affects employers with at least 50 employees for 20 weeks a year.

That means that 40 percent of the workforce is left out, and millions of Americans can’t afford to take time off without pay.

Granite State companies with at least six employees must allow eligible employees to take time off work for a disability relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, and protect their jobs. Also, health insurance can be continued while on leave, for the same cost. Employees may also take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a year to care for a family member in the military who is injured.

Family-friendly company culture

New Hampshire businesses recognized with awards for their company culture have one thing in common: they treat their employees well. Since an engaged workforce is good for business, these companies also thrive.

“A family-friendly business is a healthy business, pure and simple,” said Joe Keefe, president and CEO of Pax World in Portsmouth, an investment firm.

Though a small company (about 50 employees), Pax World offers 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents. Keefe spoke at “Winning Workplaces; Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance Summit” in Manchester last year; an article derived from his speech was printed in New Hampshire Business Review on Nov. 11, 2016.

Keefe recalled, “About a year ago, I gathered together employees who had used our parental and medical leave, to ask about their experiences, and whether there was anything we could do to improve the program or the experience. It makes us more loyal, they said. It makes us more productive. It makes us a better team. It makes for stronger morale. It’s why we love working here. We know it requires support at the top and we appreciate how much the company cares about our families.”

Author J. Heymann, in Why America’s Working Families Are in Jeopardy, said paid family leave promotes family well-being, especially for children and seniors. It also lets dads get more involved, and lowers infant mortality rates.

A prime example of a Granite State company that has been honored for leading the way is W. S. Badger of Gilsum. This family company was started in 1995 by carpenter Bill Whyte with one product, Badger Balm, which he made to soothe his hands. Today they have 100 employees (with 20 more seasonal workers) and are leaders in making organic self-care products. 

W. S. Badger provides paid parental leave of up to five weeks in addition to the federal FMLA for the primary caregiver. A secondary caregiver can also get up to two full weeks of paid time within the first six weeks of a child’s arrival.

“Our decisions on benefits come down to this: if people don’t come to work healthy, happy and balanced, they can’t be as productive, engaged, and loyal. Benefits to keep workers and their families mentally and physically healthy just make sense,” said Marketing and Public Relations Manager Deirdre Fitzgerald.

“Owners and leaders who like to think of the company as an extended family need to see that employees’ families are integral to their lives, on and off the job.

“Employees’ families are not disruptions to work; they’re motivations for it. We’ve found people will go the extra mile to make our system work smoothly. One of the biggest benefits to the company is a genuine spirit of teamwork that enhances productivity,” Fitzgerald added.

Working with Carla Moquin, founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute (PIWI), in 2007 Badger set up a Babies-at-Work program. “We’ve had 15 babies in the workplace since then, and everyone has an all-hands-on-deck attitude to ensure new parents can balance family and work time.”

Would you pay $5 a week?

A Granite State poll in 2016 showed that 82 percent of New Hampshire adults supported a paid family and medical leave law. Last year, thanks to a U.S. Department of Labor grant, the NH Department of Employment Security, the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH, and the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, a conversation was started about what paid family and sick leave might look like.

One hypothetical model has it working like insurance, with employee-paid payroll deductions as a percentage of their earnings. The median household income in the Granite State is about $66,000 a year (2014). According to Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and research associate professor of sociology at UNH, for approximately $5 per week, an average worker could possibly get up to two-thirds of their salary for several weeks to care for a seriously ill spouse or parent, for their own extended illness, or to care for or bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child.

“Being a good corporate citizen isn’t the only key to business success,” Keefe said. But your business will be left behind if you don’t invest in your “human capital,” i.e., workforce.

“Conversely, you’re gaining a competitive advantage if everyone in your business is treated with dignity, if you make accommodations for employees and their families, if you attract and promote and advance women so that your company derives the business advantages that drive from diverse leadership.”  

Mary Ellen Hettinger, APR is an award-winning reporter, editor and writer, and accredited public relations professional.

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