By Mike Hamlar
Hamlar is the owner of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home in Roanoke and a member of Main Street Alliance.
With Democrats taking back the state legislature for the first time in a quarter century, there are going to be many competing policy priorities that have been waiting in the wings. For small business owners, their employees and families, a first priority should be passing a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program.
My uncle, Lawrence Hamlar, co-founded Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home in 1952. For three generations, my family’s business has served our neighbors in Roanoke during some of the most difficult times in their lives. We’re motivated every day to provide the care and comfort each one of us deserves during these trying moments.
We’ve also done our best to extend that care to those who have chosen to work at our business. My uncle Lawrence was fond of saying, “Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.” In the fifteen years since I’ve run our family business, I’ve tried to live his advice every day.
Which is why we strive to provide the best benefits we can for our employees, including medical, dental and vision insurance, and, importantly, paid leave for family and medical needs.
If someone needs to take time away from work to recover or care for a loved one, we want them to take that time. We also want them to keep their bills paid and their families fed, so they earn their salary even while they’re out. We couldn’t ask our staff to care for our neighbors in their times of need and then abandon them when they themselves need support.
Providing paid leave to our staff speaks to the values we’ve grown up with. But it’s also an investment in our business.
Finding the right people to work in funeral services can be difficult. We need employees with strong interpersonal and emotional intelligence, staff members who can relate to people from all walks of life during some of the most trying moments in their lives. It’s not easy work, and it can be draining.
Providing paid leave is one way we make sure we keep our great staff intact. We have employees who have been with us since just about the beginning. One has more than 50 years with the company, another more than 30. A third recently celebrated their 25th anniversary with us.
And while we’re glad to provide paid leave, it’s a significant cost for us to bear as a small business. That’s why we support a universal paid leave policy for Virginia, one that would cover all working Virginians, those at small businesses and large ones. It would help lower costs for businesses like mine, allowing us to expand our services, hire more employees and increase wages and benefits.
The General Assembly will have the opportunity to take up a paid leave bill next year. It’s crucial that our representatives give small businesses like mine the support we need to help our employees navigate the life events we all face at one time or another—an unexpected illness, a sick spouse or parent, or welcoming a new child to the family.
In polarized times, paid leave is a policy that will help all Virginians. It has overwhelming, bipartisan support from small business owners: 66 percent say a comprehensive paid leave law should be a priority for Virginia.
And while our family has made it a priority to provide paid leave, for many businesses, especially new and smaller ones, offering paid leave isn’t financially viable. As things stand, many businesses are forced to scramble when an employee needs to take time away from work. Most can’t afford to find thousands of dollars unexpectedly when an employee needs leave. A universal system puts this important benefit in reach for these businesses and their employees.
Under the proposed bill, businesses and employees would contribute a couple of dollars each week to support a self-sustaining fund that would provide people with 70 percent of their income for up to twelve weeks when they welcome a new child or their doctors tell them they need time away from work to recover. It’s common sense planning that business owners put into practice every day.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws. In those that have begun implementation, the funds have remained solvent. Some have even been able to cover expanded paid leave benefits. In states with paid leave, businesses have reported high levels of satisfaction with the policy and little to no negative effects on cost or profitability.