Published March 07, 2021
By Carol J. Williams

COVID-19 has raised awareness of the need for paid family and medical leave. No one wants to encourage essential workers to go to work sick with COVID-19 or any other infectious disease.

Also, those caring for a loved one with COVID-19, especially low-paid workers, need to take time off but still must pay the bills. Calls for a national paid leave policy can be expected to grow.

In Connecticut, even before the COVID-19 crisis, an April 2019 poll showed that 88% of voters supported paid family medical leave and 82% supported paid leave, even knowing that the program would be entirely employee-funded. Unfortunately, some in Connecticut are calling for the postponement or even repeal of the state’s new paid leave policy. However, paid leave is key to stabilizing and reviving Connecticut’s economy.

Workers who have been hardest hit by COVID-19, namely, lower paid essential workers in the fields of healthcare, childcare and service industries are those most likely to need paid leave in order to recover from their own illness or to take care of family members. A recent report commissioned by several community foundations in Connecticut has shown the disproportionately negative impact that COVID-19 has had on women, especially women of color. This report indicates that nationally, four times more females left the workforce than males during the pandemic. Connecticut alone lost 400,000 jobs during 2020 and for the first time in Connecticut history females surpassed males in unemployment claims and females of color accounted for over one in three initial and continued unemployment claims.

Connecticut’s paid leave program, signed into law in 2019, will boost Connecticut’s economy by maintaining income and purchasing power and stabilizing tax revenues. Because the employer does not have to pay the person on leave, they can hire a temporary worker to fill in and the worker on leave will have a job to return to when they are able. This policy will be especially helpful to small employers who have not been able to afford to offer paid leave. Also, in states that have implemented paid leave, workers who take paid leave are more likely to return to their jobs and to stay in the workforce. And Connecticut needs those workers to return.

A recent McKinsey & Co. review of Connecticut’s workforce development programs found that by 2025 more workers will be reaching retirement age than entering their working years and already more than a third of Connecticut’s workforce is 55 or older. Also, even before the pandemic, Connecticut’s economy was more and more dependent on part-time employment and the gig economy. Now these workers too will be entitled to paid leave when they need it.

Many advocates for paid family medical leave, rather than having the cost of the paid leave trust fund fall solely on employees, would prefer to have the federal or the state government share a portion of the cost as is true in most other developed countries and some other states. But right now, the newly implemented CT Paid Leave program, funded by workers themselves, is underway.

Worker deductions began in January 2021 and next year both full-time and part-time employees in businesses large and small will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness or to care for a family member. The cost to employees, at half of 1%, will be less than a weekly medium latte at a coffee shop for those earning minimum wage.

For the first time ever, lower-paid workers in Connecticut will be able to take paid medical or family leave, continue to pay their bills and have a job to return to when they recover. By continuing the implementation of CT Paid Leave, Connecticut joins other states in the forefront of establishing a more stable, flexible and productive workforce.

Carol J. Williams is co-chair of the Women and Girls Funds Task Force on Public Policy founded by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.