Diane Martin: Access to paid leave could be a literal live-saver for small business

Diane Martin

People often think “oh, it would be great to be a business owner. You can make your own schedule, take time off when you need it, and make lots of money.” While there is a benefit in being your own boss, you also have a lot of responsibility.

When my mother got sick, near the end of her life, she lived alone and needed 24 hour care.

Every day I’d come to the restaurant for as long as I could and then immediately return home to care for her. Although I know I was doing the right thing, I often felt guilty. I needed my business to succeed so I could take care of my family, and had one child in college at the time. Taking time away was necessary, but also risky.

After a few months her condition deteriorated and we knew it wasn’t sustainable. Not just because I needed to be able to work during our busy season, but also because as things progressed, it took more and more attention and a physical person needed to be with her.

She moved in with us for a time, but the doctors recommended full-time care as the best option for her health and our family.

As we prepared to move her to a nursing home, her health failed rapidly, and she died shortly after. Diane Martin in the owner of Dee’s Hot Dogs, now with two locations in Massachusetts.

Not being able to work as much as I used to, we had a serious financial loss.

My husband and I had worked hard and save up some money to buy some land in Lakeville near my husband’s family where we hoped to retire one day. Buying the property was our retirement plan and we dreamed of a time we could spend near the water, and with the family.

Because of the financial loss of my income while I was caring for my mother, we had to sell the land and give up our dream of retiring at that location.

I treasure all the time I was able to spend with my mother, but it put a lot of stress on my business and my other family members.

A lot of attention is given to families when they have a new child, but caring for a seriously ill family member is going to become even more of an issue in the next few decades because the population is ageing. More and more parents are going to need their adult children to have time for care.

As a business owner, I wear all the hats. I work weekends and nights. I run the show. I have a responsibility to my employees. They get paid first and I do my best and pay them a living wage and keep them as long as possible. I show up everyday, knowing that I’m taking a risk. I have to be present and know what is going on at all times, because details left unattended can lead to ruin.

For many small businesses we are one medical emergency away from a financial free-fall. Access to paid family and medical leave insurance helps level the playing field for small businesses against large corporations when we’re competing for staff, but it could be a literal life-saver for small business owners like me and my husband.

Diane Martin is the owner of Dee’s Hot Dogs, now with two locations in Massachusetts.

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