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State Family-Leave Policies Cause Firms Few Problems, Study Concludes

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Family-leave policies in which employers offer unpaid leave for childbirth or adoption have not proved onerous to businesses, a new study concludes.

The study was launched in 1988 by the Families and Work Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit research group, to explore "pertinent public-policy questions" in the national debate over family leave.

President Bush vetoed a family-leave bill last year, but a similar bill is currently pending in the Congress.

The group studied leave laws in Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, drawing responses from 30 percent to 40 percent of the 1,000 to 1,500 employers sampled in each state.

Contrary to the predictions of business groups opposed to federally mandated leave, only 9 percent of the employers polled found implementation of the state family-leave laws difficult two to three years after passage. The majority said compliance with the statutes had not increased their8training, administrative, or unemployment-insurance costs.

The study also showed that such laws did not change the proportion of mothers taking leave, the length of their leaves, or the percentage who resumed work for the same employer upon returning from leave.

Passage of the statutes did appear to increase the proportion of men who took leave and the number of days they took off, but only slightly.

While family-leave supporters say the study will bolster their case, business groups remain skeptical.

Terry Hill, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business, said none of the state mandates were in place long enough to ''have a real impact" on small businesses.

In a recent Gallup Poll of federation members, 45 percent said a law requiring them to provide up to 90 days of unpaid family leave a year would make them less likely to hire young women, and 55 percent said they would be more apt to cut other benefits under such a law.

Mr. Hill also said the study is "making our point" by showing that many employers already offered family leave before the enactment of the state laws--which he said indicates a mandate is unnecessary.

Some 83 percent of the employers surveyed said they had provided job-guaranteed leaves to biological mothers before passage of the state laws, but only one in seven had policies that would meet the requirements of the proposed federal bill.

Copies of the report, "Beyond the Parental Leave Debate," are available for $30 each from the Families and Work Institute, Attention: Ellen Galinsky, 330 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001.

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