Hawaii legislators are considering two measures regarding family leave, Senate Bill 2990 and House Bill 2598.

Research shows paid family leave helps families and businesses. Hawaii needs it now.

Hawaii’s workers should not have to choose between protecting their jobs and caring for family. But that is the tough decision many have to make. When family members are sick, hurt or too frail to care for themselves, loved ones step up to provide the needed care.

Most of us will need to take time away from the job at some point to care for a seriously ill parent or spouse, or to care for a new child. Yet, employees in Hawaii have no legal right to paid family leave and most cannot take unpaid leave and still maintain financial stability, given the high cost of living in our state.

Family Well-Being

A body of research from other countries and a handful of U.S. states with paid family leave (or family leave insurance) provides clear evidence that access to job-protected leave that includes wage replacement not only promotes family economic stability, but also supports the overall well-being of working families.

Parents who have access to paid family leave are more likely to return to and remain in the workforce and are less likely to rely on public assistance following the birth of a child. Child health is also improved when parents can take the time needed for bonding with and caring for a new child without worrying about reduced income.

Queens Hospital Emergency sign. 14 feb 2017
Proposed legislation would help workers who need to care for sick loved ones. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Increased access to paid family leave is linked to improved birth weight, longer periods of breastfeeding and reduced infant mortality. Research further shows that seriously ill children recover faster and their hospital stays are shorter when parents have adequate time to care for them.

Paid leave is also associated with better physical and mental health of new mothers and increased involvement of fathers in children’s lives, which benefit parents and children over the long run.

Kupuna Get Better Care

Access to paid leave can help ease the pressures associated with caregiving for older adults.

People age 65 and older make up about 15 percent of Hawaii’s population and many of these older adults live in multigenerational households with their children and grandchildren.

Paid family leave is critical given this growing need to provide care across the life cycle, especially among Generation X workers who increasingly face the competing demands of caring for their children and their aging parents.

Current Policies Inadequate

Despite overwhelming research, the U.S. remains the world’s only advanced economy that does not guarantee job-protected paid leave to all workers.

While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was an important first step in helping workers balance work and family demands, the law only guarantees job-protected unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks to care for a family member or tend to a personal illness and excludes those who work in small businesses.

Hawaii’s Family Leave Law expands on the federal law to some extent; for example, allowing employees unpaid leave to care for a parent-in-law or grandparent. However, this law provides unpaid leave and job protection for up to four weeks for workers in businesses with 100 or more employees.

As a result, well over a third of the workforce is excluded from the law’s protection.

Benefits To Businesses

Hawaii’s families should not have to choose between caring for a new child or a sick relative and making ends meet. This session, legislation has been introduced to establish a family leave insurance program in Hawaii that would allow for job protection with wage replacement when workers have to take time off to care for a loved one.

Most of us will need to take time away from the job at some point to care for a seriously ill parent or spouse, or to care for a new child.

Prior to the passage of California’s law that created their paid family leave program, opposition centered around the claim that such a program would be harmful to businesses. Data from states that have successfully implemented family leave insurance programs, however, confirm that concerns about negative impacts on businesses are unfounded.

Employers in California, for example, report positive effects of the program on employee productivity, performance and profits. Family leave insurance programs also reduce turnover and increase employee loyalty, saving businesses the cost of replacing workers.

In addition, data indicate that workers do not abuse paid family leave and, on average, take less than the maximum time allowed.

Feasible And Affordable

Research specific to how a family leave insurance program can be implemented in Hawaii was recently completed.

We now know that it is indeed feasible to implement a social insurance program that would provide some type of wage replacement along with job protection to workers at a cost of about $5 per month to cover the average worker.

Hawaii can be at the forefront in the nation by joining other states with successful family leave insurance programs. Doing so would be consistent with our values, which emphasize the importance of an honest day’s work, striving to ensure a healthy start for our children, and honoring our ohana.

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