Ricky Klein: Your family comes first

Ricky Klein

Before the very first bubble came through an airlock at our meadery, we had already written rules: “Your family comes first.” Providing paid family and medical leave to our employees was never a question for us. We wanted to create good jobs so people in our community could support their families. We are employers first, and our business just happens to be making a fermented honey beverage called mead.

We offer three weeks of paid family and medical leave in addition to paid sick and two weeks of paid personal/ vacation time off each year for every employee who works for us full-time. We also work in an industry where flexible scheduling is doable. All employees – from bartender to CEO – can tailor their schedule to stay home with a sick child, care for an ailing family member or attend a piano recital. This was a huge undertaking for a new business, and we struggled to make it work in the beginning. We were so lucky to have the resources we did.

After six years in business, our approach is paying off; we just moved to a new facility that will allow us to triple our brewing capacity. We wouldn’t be on this trajectory if it weren’t for the dedication of our staff, which we believe is a direct result of the investment we made in them. At first, making this commitment was tough. Before we began turning a profit in 2016, we sometimes had to dig into our own pockets to make sure our employees got paid.

We know that for most small businesses robust employment benefits, like family and medical leave, just aren’t possible without a public insurance program to level the playing field. We want to see our fellow small business owners grow their operations and care for their employees just like we’ve been able to do. Being able to offer paid family and medical leave helps small businesses vie for talented, committed employees in competitive markets.

Our daughter, Nora, just turned two. For us, this is personal. However, these policies are also good for our bottom line and the small business economy at large. Paid family and medical leave programs create a happier and more dedicated workforce, which reduces turnover – one of the single highest costs for small businesses.

There is more to life than work. Our children are only young once. We can put mead in cans and put it on the shelf any day of our lives. I could never forgive myself if I were the reason someone delayed starting a family, missed an important milestone in their child’s life or a precious final moment with a loved one. We all deserve those moments, and paid family and medical leave for all is how we’ll get there as a country.

I look forward to the day when all businesses, no matter their size, can see the positive impact paid family and medical leave and flexible, family friendly workplaces can have on their businesses and our local communities. But it’s up to our legislators to create good public policy to get there. Universal access to paid time off will have a positive ripple effect in our communities. Families will be happier and healthier, our workforce and economy will be stronger and the next generation will have a foundation to thrive.

Ricky Klein is co-owner, with his wife and CEO Kelly Klein, of Groennfell Meadery, a craft mead producer in Vermont.

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