Aaron Seyedian: Paid leave shouldn't depend on where you live or who you work for

Aaron SeyedianOwning a small business doesn’t exempt you from the realities of everyday life. If anything, it makes you keenly aware of them. People get sick or injured. They start families. Their family members – children, parents and partners – need to be cared for. Ignoring the inevitable only puts our businesses at risk, jeopardizing our livelihoods and those of our employees.

I place my employees at the center of my decision making not because it makes sense for my business, although it does. I do it because it’s a moral choice. I recognize the humanity in each of my employees, and that means supporting them as people, especially when they face challenges in their lives.

Well-Paid Maids provides a living wage to all staff, as well as a comprehensive benefits package that includes paid holidays and vacation, paid sick days, health, dental, and vision insurance, and 100% employer-paid short-term disability insurance should longer-term events arise. Through short-term disability insurance, my employees can take up to twelve weeks of leave per year and receive 60 percent of their average weekly income.

I’ve made providing paid leave a priority for my business, and I’m glad to do so, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. Because our paid leave law in Washington, DC, hasn’t come into effect yet, I have to buy short-term disability insurance for my employees to have access to paid leave. This comes at a considerable cost and it lowers our margins. What’s more, because my business is small - we have ten employees - I’m not eligible for the range of policies offered to larger companies. This means I have to buy disability insurance as a supplement to other insurance I buy, costing me even more.

Even paying these high rates, it’s still been a battle to secure the benefits for my employees who have needed to take leave. Insurance companies don’t make profits for their shareholders by generously paying out claims. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail, threaten escalation and aggressively assert my rights under our contract, just to get my insurer to make good on their obligations.

The effort is worth it. I know my employees feel more secure for having access to paid leave. And I know that the worker-friendly business model we’ve developed has helped us grow, responsibly and ethically. That said, I’m looking forward to July 2020, when DC’s paid leave policy will come into full effect. My expenses for providing paid leave will be lowered and my employees will receive more generous benefits. I also expect I’ll be spending less administrative time ensuring benefits are paid correctly and on time.

Universal paid leave will be a boon to DC workers and businesses. We need a nationwide policy as soon as possible. Paid leave shouldn’t depend on where you live or who you work for, it should be as commonplace as the life events that necessitate it. Anything less ignores reality, devalues us as people, and weakens our community.

Aaron Seyedian in the owner of Well-Paid Maids, a cleaning services business in Washington, DC

Check out more Small Business for Paid Leave resources at smallbusinessforpaidleave.org.