Christie Bateman: We need a collective paid leave solution

I started my own dental practice just over two years ago, motivated by the need to create a family friendly work environment for myself and my employees. I’d practiced at another office for six years, but I left during my pregnancy because the work culture there punished employees who chose to start or grow their families. Totally upset with how I had been treated, after my son was born I knew I couldn’t go back to work somewhere that didn’t value parenthood and the contributions of parents to the workplace.

My husband and I started our practice with the idea that by treating our staff with the respect they deserve and giving them the autonomy they need, we’d create a strong business with a productive staff that takes pride in their work. Part of respecting our staff has been providing paid leave – paid holidays and paid time off they can use how they choose – but also longer paid leave options for parental leave or medical care that requires more time away from work.

Shortly after taking over the business I researched options for providing paid leave through private insurance. I found an insurance company and an agent, and now I purchase short-term disability at a group rate that my employees contribute to each pay period. The plans are more costly than they would be under a universal policy, and the benefits are lower. But it’s what’s available on the market.

We’ve made it work, and my employees know that if they need to take an extended time away from work they won’t be left without any income. For me, this is about establishing trust with my staff and demonstrating that I value them not only as employees but as people. I’ve even had an employee approach me about parental leave before they’d begun to start a family, wanting to make sure I had plenty of time to find the right temp to replace her.

Ensuring a healthy and supportive workplace is fundamental to running my business. I’ve seen how the failure to do so can negatively impact people and businesses. But leaving businesses like mine to put these policies together on our own, piecemeal, is costly and unproductive. Ultimately, it’s led to the paid leave crisis our country faces right now. We need a collective solution, one that accounts for small businesses and our employees. Until then, people across Ohio and the country will be forced to choose between their jobs and the care they and their families need.

Christie Bateman is a co-owner and practicing dentist at Devin Bateman DDS LLC, a dental practice in Ohio.

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