If everything goes as planned, in two weeks it will be lights out for me. Thankfully, after another two weeks of rest, the lights will come back on.
In November, 2017, my doctors told me I had a detached retina in my left eye and would require a few operations in order to regain my vision. They scheduled the first procedure for the middle of July. There’s never a great time to get sick, but as the owner of two businesses in Fayetteville that rely on tourism, Marathon Bikes and Arrowhead Bike Farm, there isn’t a worse time than the peak of the season to have to step away from my business for medical care.
At our farm I have a small staff that can pull together and manage things while I recover. But Marathon Bikes, my rental, sales and repair shop, can’t operate if I’m not there for an extended period. If I follow my doctor’s orders – and I plan to – I won’t be able to work for two weeks. I calculate that closing down for the last two weeks in July will cost me 10-15 percent of my gross revenue for the year. It won’t be catastrophic; my business will survive, but 2018 certainly won’t be remembered as a good year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. And in many parts of the country, it’s not. July 1st marks the anniversary of the country’s first paid family and medical leave law, launched in California in 2004. Since then, five other states and Washington, DC have passed similar laws. While these laws differ in their details, their premise remains the same: taking time away from work to attend to serious medical issues like eye surgery or family circumstances like the birth of a child or a sick parent should not be calamitous for workers or businesses.
It’s a commonsense solution for situations each one of us will face during our working lives. Unfortunately, access to this solution is based on where you live, which leaves West Virginians stuck scrambling when an unexpected family or medical situation comes up. That’s why Congress needs to pass federal legislation that covers all Americans in times of need. The FAMILY Act is a national plan that would fill in the gaps of the patchwork of state and local paid leave laws.
This bill would allow for up to 12 weeks of paid leave per worker per year and cover around two-thirds of workers’ income, with a cap at $4,000 per month. It would be funded by employers and employees, and all workers and small-business owners would be eligible, regardless of the company’s size.
Operationally, it’s pretty simple. Workers and employers each make a small payroll contribution – as little as $1.50 per worker each paycheck. Then, when workers – or operators of small businesses like me – need to take time away from work, we can draw enough income from the fund to get us by until we’re back on our feet. Employers can use the salary of their on-leave workers as they see fit; they can use it to hire a temporary replacement, invest it in their business or save it for another use.
Unsurprisingly, the American people are ahead of Congress on recognizing a good idea when they see one. According to a recent poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans support the type of paid leave the law would provide for. Small business also overwhelming supports paid leave policies.
Paid family and medical leave promotes a stronger economy, healthier families, and helps small businesses like mine thrive. It’s good for business, improving employee morale and reducing turnover and the costs associated with hiring new employees. And it’s especially good for small business, helping to level the playing field with big corporations in hiring and retaining talented employees, and giving small business owners like me a way to get the medical care we need without jeopardizing our livelihood.
It was an easy choice to get the care I need to protect my eyesight, but it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. But Congress has the power to change this reality for millions of working families and small business owners like me.
— Adam Stephens runs a pair of businesses in Fayetteville.
Adam Stephens runs a pair of businesses in Fayetteville.