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Dade County puts a new spin on family leave policies.

The United States is the only Western industrialized nation that does not guarantee family and medical leave. Both houses of Congress have passed family leave legislation, vetoed by President Bush. While nationwide legislation has been stalled, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted leave requirements themselves.

On March 16, Dade County, Fla. mandated family and medical leave as a minimum standard of conducting business.

The need for this policy was brought about by the many pressures and obligations which pull today's families in different directions. The vital needs of caring for one's health and that of hi sor her family need to be taken from the top of the list of "priorities forfeited" because of additional time constraints. The rising occurrence of child abuse and neglect is just one example of the diminishing importance of family. We must work to protect and nurture the family unit as an investment in our future.

In Dade County, as in many other cities around the country, a large portion of the residents have emmigrated from the four corners of the United States, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean. The majority of our workers do not have an extended family network on which to rely when a medical emergency arises. All too often, a worker must choose between caring for a family member or staying on the job.

The family Leave Ordinance, which was passed December 17 by the Dade County Commission, requires businesses employing 50 or more persons in Dade County to grant up to 90 days unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or for the caring of a parent, spouse, or other relative who is financially dependent on that employee. Furthermore, the ordinance requires companies entering into contract with the county, regardless of location, to maintain the same standards.

There are some exceptions. Agricultural business, for example, whose number of employees fluctuate above 50 for seasonal work, will not be affected. Employees must work 1600 hours during a year, or 30.8 hours per week to be covered by the ordinance. Some key employees, without which normal business could not be conducted, may also be exempt.

Many argue that such mandated family leave policies place undue cost on businesses. In more than a year of research, no real evidence has shown that a policy like this imposes any real cost to employers. A study conducted by the Small Business Administration found that the cost of termination of an employee ($1,131 to $3,152) is significantly higher than costs associated with granting family leave (97 cents to $98 per week). Because absences are inevitable under any circumstances, businesses are generally equipped to deal with them without significant interruption of operations.

Given the tough economic times which we are facing, more and more strain is put upon the worker and his or her family. Businesses are also feeling the stress of the uncertainty of the economic waters ahead. Under these conditions, we must look to find ways to allow the family to thrive along with the business. The well-being of one certainly affects the well-being of the other.

A good family leave policy benefits employers as well as their employees. Companies with good "employee friendly" policies attract more qualified applicants and promote a stronger sense of loyalty among employees, in turn decreasing absenteeism and increasing production. Studies show that not only is it less costly to grant leave than to hire a new worker, but also that it is far less disruptive of the operations of the business.

Some local businesses lobbied against the bill, pointing out that such action at this time of economic uncertainty might discourage investors or corporations

thinking about relocation in the area. However, Miami Herald took the view that "Jobs are scarce. Employers offering this humane policy are likely to inspire loyalty in their employees.

This is the kind of environment--humane employers, loyal employees--that Dade ought to cultivate. Besides friendliness to business and a serviceable infrastructure, firms considering relocation stress good schools safe neighborhoods, and cultural amenities. Those symbolize a caring, involved community that reflects Metro-Dade's national recognition as a progressive government."

For more information on the Metro-Dade County Family Leave Policy contact Kevin Stein in Commissioner Hawkins' office at (305) 385-5123.
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Author:Hawkins, Larry
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 20, 1992
Words:712
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