As someone who provides counsel to businesses and nonprofits, I have always stressed the value of social responsibility as a long-term business strategy. In essence, it is a way to invest in the people and communities that allow your business to run and even prosper.
I have been reminded of this over the last couple weeks as I watched the debate unfold over the Supreme Court decision to largely uphold the president’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Congress approved two years ago.
Critics argue that the law is an overreach by the government that will place onerous mandates on businesses and individuals. The National Restaurant Association, for example, was quick to attack the high court’s decision, arguing that the employer requirements “threaten the economic health of the restaurant industry” and will “impact restaurant operators’ ability to grow and create jobs.”
But it is important not to overgeneralize when discussing the impact the health care law will have on businesses. In fact, for companies with fewer than 50 full-time employees, the law actually provides a golden opportunity for making the kind of investment that I believe make businesses stronger in the long run.
That’s because, under the law, those particularly small businesses are eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent by 2014 to offset the cost of providing insurance to their employees. That would give millions of small businesses the ability to provide health insurance to employees.
Moreover, it would bring down premium costs for employers who are already providing health care benefits to their workers.
The law also enables employers eager to provide coverage access to large risk pools, known as Affordable Insurance Exchanges, where they can find competitively priced insurance coverage options. Those exchanges go into effect in 2014.
It is no wonder, then, that many small business owners are celebrating rather than lamenting the court’s landmark decision. In fact, one restaurant owner, for example, said the law gave her the confidence — and the tax credits — she needed to offer her employees health insurance for the first time.
So how does this relate to my admonition to clients that they incorporate social responsibility into their business models?
The answer is simple.
A company that takes the socially responsible path of investing in the health of its employees will see huge dividends down the road. It is no secret, for example, that productivity at some American companies is severely undercut as a result of chronic absenteeism arising from the health problems of workers and their families. Comprehensive medical insurance, including preventive care, helps promote the well-being of employees and, in turn, the success of your business.
But the business advantages of the new law do not end there. Companies that offer health benefits, for example, are in a much better position to recruit new talent than businesses that do not offer such benefits. After all, experienced and talented individuals often expect more than just a paycheck when considering a job offer. They want good benefits, too.
As my own business grows, I would like the opportunity to lure new talent one day with attractive benefit packages that I can afford to offer.
The bottom line is that providing employees with health care coverage does not only make sound business sense; it is the socially responsible thing to do. The new law makes this a viable option for many small businesses.
Shrita D. Sterlin is chief executive and brand officer of Penn Strategies, a Bethesda-based branding, public relations and marketing firm.