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Philly small business owner speaks out on paid leave

Joe Gidjunis is the owner of JPG Photography in Philadelphia.

I’m a small business owner, and I’m also a new dad. These identities give me insight into a topic that's been front and center lately: paid family and medical leave. It’s considered common sense that new parents are in favor of paid leave, as we want to spend time with our children and understand that others parents do as well. But what most people don’t realize is that a majority of small business owners support paid leave as well. I have nine employees on my team, and it’s important for me to maintain a strong workforce. Adding additional protections such as paid family and medical leave would serve as a boost, not a hindrance to my team. That's why I believe it’s important for us to implement stronger paid leave policies in Pennsylvania.

A recent report from the National Partnership for Women and Families gave Pennsylvania a “D-“ for paid family and medical leave. Our state offers no additional protections for private sector workers other than 12 weeks of unpaid leave required by federal law at businesses with more than 50 employees. This means many workers and small business owners like myself can’t afford to take time off to welcome a new child, care for a sick loved one or recover from an illness. As a new dad, this is damaging the relationship I build with my son. And as a small business owner, I can also speak to how it’s hurting our economy.

Paid leave policies are important to employees and business owners alike. If Pennsylvania had these in place, I could better attract and retain my workers without having to worry about them getting a better offer in New York or New Jersey where stronger policies exist. Plus, an employee worried about a sick loved one or a new child is never able to give 100 percent at the office. Paid leave helps ensure that workers can be happy and healthy at work, because they don’t have to worry about what will happen if their child becomes sick or if a parent has a medical emergency. This also reduces turnover rates and the high costs and time drain of recruiting and training new employees. 

The business case for paid leave is clear, which is why it’s no surprise polling from Small Business Majority found nearly six in 10 small business owners support creating publicly-administered family and medical leave insurance pools funded entirely by modest employee payroll deductions, which could be used by employees to finance paid leave. In the 21st century, employees and small employers like myself shouldn’t have to risk going broke to spend time with our babies. Unfortunately, policymakers sometimes don’t hear enough about why small business owners support paid family and medical leave. That’s why I recently participated in a panel with small business owners and advocates at the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to discuss the need for stronger paid leave policies and what we can do to fight for them. Whether business owners thought a paid leave law would improve employee retention or help level the playing field with big businesses, each panel participant effectively made their case for why paid leave helps small businesses.

Paid leave is good for small businesses, but too many people are hearing the opposite from pundits and politicians. Policymakers need to listen to real small business owners on paid leave – not special interest groups. That’s why I’m working to spread the word about why we need paid leave in Pennsylvania, and I hope my fellow entrepreneurs do as well.