Friday, July 27, 2018

New York’s bereavement leave is a killer

At my place of work we offer a few days of paid leave to anyone who loses an immediate family member. For the most part, other employers follow suit. According the annual employee benefits study issued by the Society for Human Resource Managers, 88 percent of employers offer paid bereavement in their 2018 benefits packages. Other studies have found that employers typically allow between 3 to 5 days of such leave. Those companies are also considerate enough to grant flexible use of vacation and other personal time to extend the period of grief.  

New York lawmakers don’t think that’s enough.

At the end of the legislative session, the state legislature passed a bill, rather decisively (61-1 in the Senate), that will add paid bereavement to New York’s Paid Family Leave program that was launched earlier this year.

Not to be outdone by the other 2 states that mandate paid bereavement, New York took it to the extreme. Whereas Oregon has 5 days of bereavement and Illinois 10, the Empire State will offer 12 weeks.

Not 12 days.

12 weeks.

Someone will actually be allowed to take a full 3 months off and receive up to two-thirds of their weekly pay while doing so.

I guess I’ll be the bad guy and tell you that this sort of legislation is unconscionable.

Don’t get me wrong. Loss is difficult. I don’t know if we ever stop grieving. Every day I think about the babies that my wife and I lost in the womb – I can still see their heartbeats and their little bodies on the move. The emotions over their passing are still strong.

But, we can’t be so consumed by grief that we shut ourselves off from the whole world for 3 months. It’s not healthy.

Nor is this healthy for New York’s small business and non-profits.

Employers need to be able to plan on having their personnel. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly why they hired them….to work. Allowing someone to go off the grid for 3 months is not good for business, because they’ll be missing a key individual and you really can’t go out and hire a replacement because you have to keep the chair warm for the worker on leave.

The impact on a larger business like mine will be minimal. I have a big team and guys and gals here who are cross-trained so we can weather the absence of almost anyone here. But, most organizations don’t have more than 200 people on their payroll. Most of the employers in this state are small businesses and social service agencies with a fraction of that headcount. If they lose a critical worker for 3 months their output and quality will suffer -- and so will their customers.

Think about your neighborhood diner. What if your favorite cook was gone for 12 weeks? How often would you stop by for dinner?    

Or, think about your local “Y” or Boys and Girl Club. What would happen to their after school programs if key administrators disappeared for almost a whole semester?  

What if a small newspaper like this one lost a reporter for a quarter of the year – who could pick up the slack?

Mind you, most won’t take 12 weeks. A lot of folks want to be doing something so their mind isn’t on the loss. We press on.

But, remember those you’ve worked with who will abuse the new policy.

I guarantee you knew someone who took paid bereavement leave for a family member who was anything but a loved one, just so he could take time off. I’m sure you questioned how many grandmothers a young man could have when it seemed like he was taking off for funerals a little too often.

And, then, there are the people who don’t want to work at all. This is yet another in a long line of entitlements (once we take this from the private sector it’s no longer a benefit) that encourages people to do very little to get a lot. 12 weeks of family leave. 12 weeks of bereavement leave. Unfettered access to unemployment payments. There’s a reason why last fall there were 1,000 job openings in Orleans County and nearly a thousand county residents on unemployment -- people who don’t want to work will find ways not to as long as the state makes it comfortable.

Employers are up in arms about this. But, they – especially the non-profits who are supposed to be more caring -- keep that talk in their offices for fear of coming across as heartless to the public. They have to speak up. The bill is awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature. Put a little pressure on him and maybe he will veto it or demand that they go back to the drawing board and take it down by 11 weeks. If not, a generous and abused bereavement system will become yet another of the many, many things killing the upstate economy.   

From the 30 July 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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