When 2013 began, business groups were talking about reforming and reining in Rhode Island’s Temporary Disability Insurance program – certainly not expanding it.
But expand it was just what the General Assembly did this month, voting to grant workers up to four weeks per year of paid leave through the fund to take care of sick family members or bond with a newborn baby.
The state-run temporary-disability-insurance program is funded through deductions from employee paychecks. To pay for the new benefits, the amount taken out each pay period is expected to rise from 1.2 percent to 1.4 percent of the first $61,400 in earnings, with no tax assessed for income above that amount.
For a worker making $40,000 per year, that would mean earnings paid into the TDI fund would rise from $480 annually to $560 annually. Someone making $30,000 per year would see the current $360 annual TDI deduction rise to $420.
Supporters of greater family leave say that’s a small price to pay to free workers from a choice between taking care of someone who is sick and quitting their job. They point out that most other developed countries provide some form of mandatory paid leave.
“This helps employee retention because companies don’t have to go out and hire a new employee if a family member runs into an emergency,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, lead sponsor of the bill. “So many times people run into a crisis and have to leave their job, costing them and the business. This doesn’t cost the employer anything, but it means we do care about your work-life balance.”
Joining Goldin’s coalition in support of the bill was Daniel Gold, president of LNA Laser Technology in Pawtucket.
“The prestige of having the most family-friendly work environment in New England is a compelling incentive for families to stay in or make Rhode Island their home and help grow the economy at the same time,” Gold said in a statement supporting the We Care Rhode Island coalition that pushed for the TDI bill.
But much of the business community thinks mandatory paid family leave, and the chunk it will take from take-home pay, will make the state less attractive and ultimately harm the economy.