Many students here at Ohio State are currently searching or will eventually be looking for a career to pursue after graduation. Employment benefits offered by prospective companies play a huge role in where we choose to work, live, and start our families. For those who plan to one day choose the family route, need to eventually care for an aging parent, or simply understand the realities of unforeseen illness, paid leave can mean the difference between being able to continue working at a long-held job or being forced to leave the workforce.

Yet, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without some sort of legally protected paid leave. Without a national standard, only 15 percent of U.S. workers in the private sector enjoy paid family leave benefits, and the number is much lower — 4 percent — among low-wage workers. In Ohio, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 62 percent of working people.

This is not the future I’d like to see in Ohio or the U.S. When I go job hunting, I should be able to focus on finding a job with great pay and good hours, rather than just hoping a company will see me as a person and understand that I need to balance the demands of work and needs of my family and my own health. I shouldn’t have to be concerned that an employer might hire a male counterpart instead of me, due to the cost liability of my ability to reproduce.

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

My sister shouldn’t have to be concerned about potentially losing her position at her architecture firm simply because she and her partner want to start a family. My mom shouldn’t be concerned about how many hours of work she’ll miss when she’s out with a medical issue; she should be able to focus on recovering from the flu. Prioritizing the health of Ohio’s citizens is paramount to their well-being and their overall success in their careers. By demanding this prioritizing change now, we can create a brighter future for when we do enter the workforce.

So how can we make this change? This month, state Reps. Kristin Boggs and Janine Boyd introduced their legislation for the Ohio Medical Leave Insurance Program in the Ohio House. State Sen. Charleta Tavares has already announced companion legislation in the Senate for a paid-leave program with bipartisan support from co-sponsors of the bill.

Their program would allow Ohioans to continue to receive a portion of their paycheck and preserve their job for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period in order to take time away from work to address their own medical emergency; care for and bond with a new child; or care for an aging or ill family member.

March is Women’s History Month. Paid leave means people — especially women — are not forced to leave the labor force to care for their families or health, reducing turnover for employers and boosting the economy.

No one should have to choose between continuing their career and starting a family or caring for an aging parent. Contact your representatives and ask them to support this critical policy. To do so, you can use advocacy tools from the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network. It will help make your future after Ohio State a brighter one.

Liz Brett

Second-year in public affairs

Intern, Innovation Ohio