Running a childcare and learning center for 130 children makes me hyper-aware of the struggle so many families are going through to care for loved ones while still showing up for work during these uncertain times.

Ashley Henshaw

That’s why I’m celebrating that Colorado is in the midst of standing up our own Paid Family and Medical Leave program. It is absolutely essential to keeping our kids, families and staff members healthy and thriving.

On Dec. 13, the chief judge of the Denver District Court dismissed a baseless lawsuit that was attempting to overturn the program before it even got off the ground, despite the initiative passing in November 2020 with a strong majority of support. Now, Colorado families, workers and businesses like mine can rest assured that the will of the people will stand and we will soon benefit from a paid-leave program that is affordable and protects families in their time of need.

The pandemic showed us how important health, family and flexible worksites really are.

As a facility serving children from six weeks to 12 years old, we regularly see parents having to decide between dropping their kid off at our center and going to work or going without a paycheck and potentially losing their job. That’s harmful for the child, the family and our little community.

After we’ve invested in recruitment, training and more, we want our staff to stick around. High turnover hurts businesses, so providing paid family and medical leave to them is another way to retain the committed workers we need.

As important, we want to know that our staff members are healthy and able to do their job without being in the middle of a personal crisis or suffering medically themselves. We feel we share the community-wide responsibility to provide support like paid leave so they have the time they need to attend to family emergencies, illness or other problems.

Why is paid family and medical leave so important for businesses? Larger companies can already afford to offer this critical benefit, which helps them attract and retain the best talent to work for them. Research shows that workers with paid family leave are more loyal to their employers and also more productive in their day-to-day work.

As a small business in a high-expense, low-income field, it has been difficult to figure out how to pay for emergency or medical leave for our employees on our own, putting us at a distinct disadvantage when competing against larger employers for the right people to work for us.

My family of five had first-hand experience with the need for paid leave when my husband contracted West Nile virus infection and experienced severe brain swelling while I was a self-employed in-home childcare provider. Out of work for months, he could barely walk, couldn’t drive and had to undergo plasma infusions and physical therapy to regain his health.

His company didn’t offer paid leave, and refused his supervisor’s request to donate her own paid time off to him. The only way we were able to keep paying the bills came down to a completely ridiculous workaround: a co-worker would pick him up, bring him to the office, where he simply sat in the office, unable to work but technically on the clock.

Because of my family’s experience, I don’t ever want my employees to have to be in the same position. I want to both take care of them and be able to keep the doors of my business open.

That’s why I’m thrilled that Colorado voters approved Proposition 118 and now the courts have dismissed baseless attacks on the program, paving the way for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to finish developing the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program.

Employees and employers will fund the program equally through payroll contributions and it will provide 12 weeks of paid leave. The program will start collecting premiums Jan. 1, 2023, and coverage will begin one year later.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have instituted similar family leave programs and it’s working well for employers and employees alike in those places.

Developing a well-designed program is a crucial step in ensuring that smaller employers can offer a competitive family leave benefit to employees — and every employee has the security of being able to care for a medically needy loved one while staying afloat financially.

I’m grateful the frivolous lawsuit challenging the program was dismissed – and counting the days until Colorado’s paid family and medical leave program is up and running.

Ashley Henshaw, of Littleton, is the co-owner of Stepping Stones Learning Center in Littleton, providing infant care, preschool and outside-of-school programming for students up to age 12.

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