COLUMBUS, Ohio — The issue of paid family leave is in the spotlight at both the state and federal level.

What You Need To Know

  • The U.S. Senate is weighing whether four weeks paid leave should stay in the Build Back Better Act

  • Ohio House Democrats are renewing their advocacy for paid family leave at the Statehouse

  • A Columbus business owner said the need for family leave is crucial

  • Roger Geiger of NFIB Ohio, which represents almost 22,000 small family-run businesses, said paid family leave is a solution to a problem that does not exist

In Congress, the Senate is weighing whether four weeks paid leave should stay in the Build Back Better Act that House Democrats passed last week. Meanwhile, Ohio House Democrats are renewing their advocacy for paid family leave at the Statehouse.

"Paid leave is too important to be luck of the draw," said Heather Whaling of Columbus.

Whaling said she first felt the impact of paid family leave as a new mom. In 2013, she gave birth to her son, Evan​, five weeks early. Evan then spent the first two weeks of his life in the NICU.

"And during that time, I was able to stay singularly focused on getting him healthy so we could get him home," Whaling said.

That is because she is fortunate enough to own her own business.

"But I couldn't imagine going through that type of experience and then also wondering about how I was going to pay the bills or what my job situation was going to be," Whaling said. 

Realizing her employees could be faced with that scenario, Whaling decided to start self-funding paid leave for her staff five years ago. Whaling offers her workers at Geben Communication in Columbus 10 weeks off plus a two-week transition period without losing a dollar.

"There are a lot of companies out there who want to be able to provide leave to their employees, but their margins aren't strong enough where their cash flow situation is tighter, and so they can't self-fund that benefit," she said. "That's why we need a national policy."

And while the U.S. Senate decides if it wants to send a four-week national policy to President Joe Biden's desk, Ohio House Democrats want something done at the state level too.

"We think that it is important for all workers to have access to this benefit and not have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a loved one or themselves when they get ill," said Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington. 

The bill, House Bill 491, would create a social insurance program like the one Colorado currently runs. Employees could get 12 weeks paid leave if they pay a $25-30 premium every year.

Russo said if the feds pass their four-week plan, then Ohio's program would tack on an additional eight weeks.

"So all employees would be able to take advantage of this regardless if you are an hourly employee, a low-wage employee," Russo said. "It's also extremely helpful to small businesses who often have very limited options when they want to offer this benefit."

Roger Geiger, Vice President and Executive Director of NFIB Ohio, which represents almost 22,000 small family-run businesses, said paid family leave is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

"It sounds really good. But once again, it's government doing a one-size-fits-all intrusion into the relationship between the employer and the employee, which is where this should be left," Geiger said.

And Geiger added if the state implemented paid family leave, there would be tradeoffs that would hurt employers and employees.

"The money tree is only so big, and if I provide family and medical leave, does that mean I can't do higher wages?" Geiger said. "Does that mean I can't provide health insurance or paid time off?"

According to the national campaign, Paid Leave for the United States, only 25% of workers nationwide had access to any amount of paid leave at the beginning of the pandemic. In Ohio, unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, is unavailable to 61% of workers.

The campaign says if nothing is done, women across the country could lose more than $60 billion in wages per year from lost work while the economy could add more than $500 billion if the issue is addressed.

"Paid family leave is good for families, and it's good for business,” said Whaling. “And the state of Ohio needs to figure out how to make it available to their residents.”