Parental leave is a hot topic in both legislative and corporate circles. Many companies aren’t waiting for more mandates, however. As they look for ways to gain a competitive advantage in the labor market, they’re expanding paid leave policies now.
According to data from the Society for Human Resources Management, more than one in three U.S. employers offers paid maternity leave beyond what’s required by law. That number was one in six just eight years ago. Paid leave for someone other than the birth mother (father, same-sex parent, adoptive parent, etc.) is less common, though. SHRM reports few companies offer the broader “parental leave,” but it’s becoming more common.
The Miller Group experience
While few Miller Group clients offer paid parental leave, especially to someone other than the birth or adoptive mother, we offer a generous policy to our own employees. Our Parental Leave benefit provides 12 weeks of paid leave to employees who are the primary caregiver and up to four weeks to secondary caregivers. It’s a broad policy, covering birth, adoption and even foster parenting.
Paternity leave benefits parents and children
We feel strongly that companies should offer some form of paid parental leave – especially given the evolving family structure and the growing importance of more equitable sharing of childcare responsibilities. It’s also a strong retention tool. When you support employees during a critical stage in their life, you build their loyalty to you as an employer.
Studies have shown that paternity leave has long-lasting effects on children’s well-being, too. According to a report in The Economist, “Fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in child-care tasks. According to a study of four rich countries – America, Australia, Britain and Denmark – fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended.” Children benefit also. A study by the University of Oslo found that paternity leave improved children’s performance at secondary school; daughters, especially, seemed to flourish if their dads had taken time off.”
Tips for success
There’s no right or wrong way to design your parental leave program, but here are some suggestions to consider.
Make it equitable: Estee Lauder recently reached a settlement agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding its leave policy, which offered new fathers less paid parental leave than new mothers. The EEOC says employers can offer “medical leave” to mothers (for pregnancy and childbirth recovery), but they can’t offer different amounts of “bonding” leave based on gender. Women and men must be able to take equal amounts, according to the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance On Pregnancy Discrimination And Related Issues.
Also consider covering birth, adoption and foster parenting. And think about offering coverage to both primary and secondary caregivers, regardless of gender.
Plan for transitions: Work with teams anticipating a parental leave so they don’t take on all the burden of the absent member. This might be a time to do some cross training or challenge an employee who’s looking for more responsibility. You also may want to line up contract resources to fill the gap temporarily.
Integrate with your STD benefits: If you offer a STD plan, you will need to consider how it impacts your paid parental leave policy.
Run parental leave concurrent with FMLA: That’s the way we do it at The Miller Group. We also offer the benefit once in a rolling 12-month period, so a person can’t take two parental leaves within the same 12 months.
Comply with state and local laws, as applicable.
It’s the right thing to do
Including secondary caregivers and all genders in your parental leave benefits allows you to demonstrate your support for taking healthy time off with no career consequences. It’s a subtle shift, and it can mean a lot to your employees and your business.