Owner of Columbus brewery explains why paid leave is good for Ohio small businesses
This post originally appeared on Columbus Underground on October 18, 2016 and was authored by Bob Szuter, co-owner and founder of Wolf's Ridge Brewing in Columbus. It is being re-shared in light of new state legislation introduced this week to establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program in Ohio, which small businesses support.
When you talk to business owners about what make their business successful, they often say their employees are their number one assets. That’s certainly true for the Columbus small business I co-own with my father, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. We want to keep our employees happy, and for us, part of how we do that is by offering paid family and medical leave via a short-term disability policy. But paid leave isn’t just about treating our employees well – it’s also boosted our bottom line by increasing employee retention and morale. At the end of the day, people can do a better job focusing on work if they aren’t worried about what will happen if they become sick or injured. Stronger paid leave will spread these benefits across Ohio, which is why we’re committed to supporting a statewide paid leave policy.
When we started our business, we didn’t offer paid leave because we didn’t realize how important it would be to our employees. But during our first three years of business, we had two employees suffer from medical issues that forced them to take unpaid time off. We saw the toll this took on them and how it impacted our workplace morale. Since instituting paid leave, our employees are happier and more productive because they know they can stay home if they have an accident or become ill.
Unfortunately, we live in a state that doesn’t have paid leave policies in place, so we’re a bit of an anomaly in offering paid leave to our employees. While that provides us an advantage in employee productivity and retention, it also means some competitors who don’t provide paid leave can initially undercut us. Putting a paid leave policy in place would create a level playing field for businesses that want to offer paid leave by making the policy universal. Additionally, many proposed paid leave laws provide an extra benefit to businesses by creating insurance funds partially or fully funded by modest employee contributions. This means that businesses won’t have to foot the bill when employees need to stay home to recover from an illness or take care of a new child. For us, that means we could invest extra money in training or new jobs. For businesses that don’t offer paid leave already, this means they can start offering this benefit with minimal financial impact.
Our weak paid leave policies also hurt us because they make Ohio a less attractive place to work. When workers can simply head to neighboring states for stronger paid leave policies, it means we’re losing out on talented workers –particularly in the food and beverage industry. That’s bad for our economy.
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.
Unfortunately, policymakers often hear more from special interest groups than real small business owners on this issue. That’s why we recently hosted a panel at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing small business owners and advocates to discuss the need for stronger paid leave policies in Ohio. Whether business owners thought a paid leave law would improve employee productivity or help level the playing field with big businesses, each panel participant effectively made their case for why paid leave is good for small businesses. This event was a valuable opportunity for policymakers to learn about why small business owners support these policies.
Paid leave is good for small businesses, but too many people hear the opposite from pundits. Policymakers need to listen to real small business owners on paid leave – not special interest groups. I’m spreading the word about why we need paid leave in Ohio, and I hope my fellow entrepreneurs do as well. It’s good for our families and our small businesses.