PHOTO: Paid leave

STATE lawmakers are currently holding work sessions to discuss bills requiring paid family leave in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This type of legislation often requires employers to give workers anywhere from six to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for themselves or a sick relative.

While many small businesses very much want to support their employees when there is a family emergency, they need flexibility. A strict mandate will create havoc for many small businesses when it comes to getting the daily workload done and staying open.

Small businesses in Virginia who are also members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses tell us that a cookie-cutter, government-imposed approach to paid leave would be unworkable.

Their stories relate to the number of employees they have at their small business, the higher level of training required in today’s workforce, and the unpredictability of the workload, which may be cyclical.

Our small business association heard from the owner of an alarm company with four employees, who said if one of his two trained technicians were out for a couple of months, he wouldn’t be able to respond to schools or malls when the alarm wasn’t functioning, endangering public safety and the ability to keep his doors open.

An owner of a construction firm with under 10 employees says some of his workers operate heavy equipment and need special safety certifications— and that a rigid paid leave mandate would create a difficult predicament for his business.

A veterinarian who depends on his surgical techs as part of a three-member team that operates days and evenings on pets says that if he loses one of those employees for an extended period, he would have to stop doing anything but emergency surgery and close the business during evening hours.

If they had to live under such a mandate, these small business owners say it would be impossible to hire a fill-in worker for the employee who needs to take paid family leave.

Temporary agencies rarely have workers with the training to replace highly specialized workers who hold most jobs in today’s workforce. If someone with those credentials can be found, which is nearly impossible when a labor shortage exists, should the business owner unfairly hire that person only to let them go when the employee on leave returns and they are no longer needed?

That isn’t fair.

Large businesses or corporations might more easily juggle paid leave mandates, but for the small business owner, each situation requires an individual plan—one better left to the owner and employee.

And you can be sure the owner doesn’t want to lose a valuable employee. So they will work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. The state government shouldn’t stamp out a single one-size-fits-all solution.

State lawmakers need to know that this input from small businesses counts when deciding on paid leave legislation because, in Virginia, those companies employ 1.5 million workers, or nearly half of the state’s workforce.

Nicole Riley is the state director of NFIB, a small business advocacy organization with thousands of members across Virginia.

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