Back in 2013, I was an independent contractor working in the construction industry and, like many Americans and Connecticut residents, I did not have access to any paid time off. If I did not work, I did not get paid. It was as simple as that.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I assumed I would be able to work within a few weeks of my due date. But at 28 weeks (roughly three months early), I went into pre-term labor. I was hospitalized and, while the doctors were able to stop the contractions, I was placed on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy. At 37 weeks I went into labor with my son. Due to complications, I had to have an emergency C-section. Because of the surgery, and the nature of my work, my doctor advised waiting at least six weeks before returning to work. But by the time I gave birth, due to a lack of any paid leave, I had already gone nine weeks without any sort of income and it took my partner and I years to financially recover. Just three weeks after surgery, I went back to work, still bleeding and in pain.
Contributions to Connecticut’s landmark paid family and medical leave program begin in just a few short weeks on January. Like so many other workers in Connecticut, this program would have been critical to my family and me seven years ago. It’s still critical now as we continue to adjust to life in a pandemic wreaking havoc on families and the economy.
Too many workers in Connecticut do not have access to paid family and medical leave right now through their employers, including the vast majority of low-wage workers who are disproportionately women and people of color on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state’s absence of a fully operating paid leave program during the pandemic, as well as gaps in federal relief laws, forces workers to risk their own health and the health of their families everyday to earn a paycheck and keep the economy running.
I doubt I’ll need maternity leave again, but the law covers much more than that. Paid family and medical leave is planning for the unplanned. While you might not anticipate you or a family member ever becoming sick, this year has shown us that anything can happen.
In the years since welcoming my first child, I started my own small interior painting business, employing several people as independent contractors. As a small business owner, I know that the success of my business is dependent on the health and wellbeing of the people who work for me. They are the backbone of my business — a business I wouldn’t have without them.
Since I am not able to offer any sort of benefits for the independent contractors who work for me, I wholeheartedly support Connecticut’s new paid leave program. While hiring temporary workers may seem like an inconvenience to some small businesses, I view it as part of what I signed up for. Not only is it morally right to allow workers time off to deal with important or stressful life events, but it makes business sense. When my workers are physically, and mentally able to work, my business is more productive.
At the time of the law’s passage in 2019, no one predicted that just over a year later we’d be living through a global pandemic. I understand that the thought of a new payroll deduction at a time of heightened financial uncertainty for so many is daunting. But if we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that access to comprehensive, paid family and medical leave is needed now more than ever.
Sally Grossman is the owner of Enhanced Interiors in Windsor.