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I am writing this as an open letter to the D.C. Council to show my strong support of the Universal Paid Leave Act. As an employment attorney, a small business owner covered by the Act, and a father of 4, I have a unique perspective on the bill and its impact.
As An Employment Lawyer
I focus my practice on representing families with problems at work due to caregiver needs. Every week, I see people in my office who would greatly benefit from having paid leave.
Let me share just a few stories with you.
Once, I met with a father who openly wept in my office because the demands of both a new family and a job that provided no paid leave caused him a lot of stress and ultimately affected his performance at work. His manager, facing quarterly earning goals, did not see the benefit of investing in an employee with young children when he could easily hire someone without distractions at home to do the job.
In another case, I represented a professional woman who was forced out of her workplace, a long-time employee then second-in-command, when the CEO learned that she was going to have a second child and needed maternity leave, at least some of it paid.
I know that you have heard similar stories first-hand in your hearings. These come from people in a position to speak out. The many stories that I hear in my office each month suggest that there are countless more mothers, fathers and other caregivers who suffer desperately, mostly in silence.
Sadly, the managers carrying out these acts often themselves suffer from lack of uniform paid leave options. Certainly, there are some selfish rogue managers who do not care about the needs of new mothers, fathers or those suffering from an illness. But I know from my law practice that there are many managers who make the decisions they do because they face pressures to “meet budget goals” while competing against companies working employees around the clock. These managers do not feel like they can afford to have a sleep-deprived employee around the office — one who is there because he or she cannot afford to take unpaid time away from work.
As A Small Business Owner
I am a small business owner who would be covered by the bill because I employ an attorney who lives in the District.
Like all private companies, our firm has to keep an eye on the bottom line. But even from a green-eyeshades perspective, the Universal Paid Leave Act is a win for us. While the bill would represent a cost to my firm, it would actually be a net benefit.
We already provide paid leave to our employees to fulfill family obligations. The Act would allow us to provide even more leave to our district employees. As a business owner, I would much prefer to have a well-rested attorney to one who is facing the double hammer of sleep deprivation while stressing about childcare options for a new baby. Because the Universal Paid Leave Act ensures uniform paid leave, it would provide the firm an incentive to hire more District-based employees.
Furthermore, for our businesses and others, I believe the bill would actually increase productivity because it would clarify an employer’s obligations thereby reducing disputes over family care obligations. (I talk primarily about the needs of new parents in this letter, but many families face significant demands of caring for aging parents or a family member who is sick or with a disability. Indeed, many families need flexible, paid leave for more than one reason — think of the “sandwich generation.”)
Some of the problems that I see in my office occur because managers are facing the Wild West when it comes to providing leave, trying to negotiate a patchwork of company policies (this can often vary by state) and laws to determine how and when to provide leave. A more uniform approach providing for adequate leave would help ease some of the burden many companies face currently. For my business, and I suspect for others, this would more than offset the cost represented by the Universal Paid Leave Act.
As A Father Of 4
I’m a father of 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls ages 3-10.
I had newborn children when I was as associate in a private practice, as an Assistant United States Attorney, and as a business owner. My wife, also an attorney, works at a law firm in the District.
While both the law firm at which I worked and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were supportive of my need to take leave, neither provided paid paternity leave. They did, however, allow me to use other forms of leave, allowing me to spend time with each of my children after they were born. My wife enjoyed similar flexibility.
My wife and I were fortunate to be able to spend time with our children away from work during those early days (and even after when we required for doctor’s visits and other contingencies).
I also know, first-hand, how difficult it is in those early days of sleepless nights and the stress (and joy, of course) of acclimating to the needs and demands of a new baby. Neither the family nor the workplace benefits when a parent has to deal with the financial and career pressure of trying to pull this off without clearly defined paid leave.
Tom Spiggle is author of “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.” He is founder of the Spiggle Law Firm based in Arlington, VA. To learn more, visit yourepregnantyourefired.com.