Business leaders from nearly 200 companies sent an open letter to Congress on Tuesday issuing a public call for inclusion and passage of a national paid family and medical leave policy in the next legislative recovery package. Signers include many prominent founders and CEOs of both growing and established companies, including Pinterest, Levi Strauss & Co, Spotify, Patagonia, Eventbrite, Rent the Runway, Stitch Fix, Rebecca Minkoff, Rothy's, Calm, Lightspeed Ventures, ThirdLove, Zola, Honest Company, Goop, and more.

Not only would having a national paid-leave policy go far in addressing some of the key failings in the U.S. health care system that were uncovered by the Covid-19 pandemic, it would help more women keep their jobs, say the business leaders.

"We joined this push for federal legislation on paid leave because we believe that national action is key to stemming the tide of women leaving the workforce in the wake of the coronavirus crisis," said Jenn Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway in a statement. If women in particular had the security to leave and come back--as a national policy would allow--her thesis follows: women wouldn't be leaving the workforce in droves. Further, she adds: "it's the right thing to do--period."

The letter comes at a critical moment. Not only is March 24 Equal Pay Day in the U.S., the day set aside to acknowledge the gender pay gap in America, the Biden administration is gearing up to release more details regarding its next recovery package. While Biden favors a broad and permanent paid-leave policy, it's an open question whether it'll make it into the final version of the next legislation.  

It is worth noting that an extension and expansion of the existing paid leave policy, dubbed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, or FFCRA, was indeed included in the last relief legislation: the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. But it's only temporary. The measure, which mandates that all companies offer paid sick leave to employees affected by Covid-19, now ends on September 6, 2021. Previously, companies with more than 500 or fewer than 50 employees were exempted from participating. 

While all companies now must participate, only smaller businesses--those with fewer than 500 employees--utilizing the program may recoup their paid-leave costs during the pandemic via a payroll tax credit. Companies with more than 500 employees are required to offer leave and pay for it themselves.

That's a good step, but it's not enough, says Alexis Ohanian, an investor and Reddit co-founder, who also signed on to the letter. "The pandemic has cast a harsh light on so many of the inequities in our society, and families should no longer be subjected to the added pressure of choosing between their job or caring for a child or loved one," he said in the same statement.

What's more, the business leaders argue: paid leave is critical for economic recovery, even as the vaccination rate increases nationwide. Giving people the space to convalesce without fearing for their jobs could help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

"Traditionally, the business community has been viewed as the chief obstacle to passing the kind of paid leave program that's overwhelmingly popular and needed by working people," said Annie Sartor, senior director of business partnerships for Paid Leave for the United States, the campaign behind the letter. "This makes it clear, in unequivocal terms, that the Covid crisis has transformed the debate and businesses are now looking for the federal government to pass paid leave."