Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finally, Families Get a Corporate Perk

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finally, Families Get a Corporate Perk

Article excerpt

TODAY marks a long-awaited victory for anyone who has ever had trouble combining a paycheck with parenthood. After eight years of public debate, countless revisions, and two presidential vetoes, the Family and Medical Leave Act takes effect. It gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new baby or a seriously ill family member.

But hold the celebrations, please - or at least don't expect the boss to join in. Employees may regard this as a red-letter day, but some employers see it as a red-ink regulation. Small-business owners in particular worry about the cost of hiring temporary replacements and maintaining health coverage for absent workers. They also resent the long arm of the federal government meddling in corporate policies, especially when managers must wade through 91 pages of regulations published by the United States Department of Labor.

Yet that long arm doesn't reach everywhere. The law exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees. It doesn't cover the highest-paid 10 percent of a company's workers. It excludes anyone who hasn't worked for a company for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours a year - 25 hours a week. It also requires workers to give 30 days notice, if possible, when they need to take a leave.

Even so, opponents argue that the law will slow hiring in the very sector where almost all job growth has occurred in recent years. Supporters don't deny that charge. The only question is: How much will it slow employment and for how long?

Among 300 small businesses surveyed by Kessler Exchange, 28 percent said they might stop hiring before they reach 50 employees to avoid complying. Nearly 20 percent said they were considering cutting their staff to fewer than 50 for the same reason. Others say they plan to hire only part-time or temporary workers, who receive no benefits.

But for people with families, the law offers welcome protection. It makes family leave a right, not simply a benefit to be given or refused according to the whim of individual bosses. This new legal status might protect other wage earners from the kind of unpleasant situation a working mother in Springfield, Mass. …

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