Paid family leave a boost for small businesses

As the owner of a local business, it’s important to me that both our local economy and local community are robust and healthy. For our economy to thrive, our companies need to be profitable and consumers need to have money in their pockets — even when those consumers need time off from work to recover from a serious illness or care for their families at crucial points in life.

California’s paid family and medical leave insurance program helps on both fronts. That’s why, like a growing number of businesses, Bi-Rite Market supports Senate Bill 63, New Parent Leave.

The New Parent Leave bill would permit all workers at companies with 20 or more employees to take time to recover from a serious illness or care for a family member without losing all of their income. It would expand our highly successful, existing system, which is paid for jointly by employees and employers.

Right now, California law only provides paid family leave for workers at companies with 50 or more employees.

But smaller firms with 20 to 49 people may need this law more than bigger ones. At any size company, employees who can’t afford to take leave at such a critical time in their own or their family’s lives are not going to be at their best. That’s bad for productivity, consumer satisfaction and public relations — achievements all businesses value but small ones often live and die by.

Losing good employees is a big deal in a small company; every single person is what the insurance folks call a “key man” position. And with the jobless rate dropping, it’s easier for good people to find jobs that treat them well. Even more dangerous, at small firms there’s no big advertising budget to make up for losing our crucial competitive advantage: customers’ good word-of-mouth. Add those potential losses to the loss of consumers with money to spend, and it’s clear to me that SB 63 is a better deal for smaller businesses.

Our state has already taken other steps to minimize paid leave costs to companies. California’s paid family leave insurance model addresses costs, enabling employers to provide a critical benefit through a public system funded by very small employee and employer contributions. Businesses across California that are already participating say paid leave is so valuable to workers, it actually helps the bottom line.

Employers like me know that helping employees through both tough and joyous times is how you create a loyal workforce with high morale — the kind that has a willing commitment to being productive and giving good service to our customers, to keep them coming back on their own and bringing friends. We also know that when workers in our communities aren’t faced with financial collapse at critical times in their lives, consumer demand remains stable so you can plan for profitability.

From my own experience, I know that paid leave has not hurt my business financially, but instead has helped strengthen our workplace culture. I know many other employers who believe paid leave is the right thing to do but have been waiting for it to be official across the state. SB 63 would make sure all of us are playing by the same rules, so doing what’s right doesn’t put us at a marketplace disadvantage.

The more companies become part of the fabric of our workers’ lives, the more we will become integral to theirs. Companies spend a lot of time trying to motivate workers and secure repeat business. I’ve found it’s not necessarily all that complicated. Measures like New Parent Leave help.

At Bi-Rite, we’re grateful to the California State Senate for voting in favor of SB 63 and we urge members of the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown to support it as well. Paid leave does not just benefit workers; it benefits our communities and our companies. It’s time that employees and employers at smaller businesses enjoy these benefits, too.

Sam Mogannam is owner of Bi-Rite Market, a second-generation, family-owned market, creamery and caterer in San Francisco.

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