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Paid Parental Leave: What Should Family Employers Consider?

A health insurance company in Tennessee recently conducted a survey of 500 new parents, and the results showed that half took leave of only 30 days or fewer, even though 62 percent received paid parental leave.

Although more workplaces are offering leave for both mothers and fathers, many new fathers, and even new mothers, feel pressured not to take their full leave. Eighty percent of the new fathers surveyed said they feel stigmatized in their workplace for asking to take parental leave.

Another survey conducted in 2018 by a human resources consulting firm found that 40 percent of employers now offer paid parental leave for birth and adoptive parents. In 2015, only 25 percent of employers did so. Allison Shirk Collins, "New fathers, parents still face stigma in taking paid parental leave, Unum survey finds" timesfreepress.com (Jun. 14, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

The vast majority of family employers do not fall under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to comply.

Even so, your state or city may require parental leave that applies to your number of employees. Make sure you consult with local counsel regarding your legal obligations.

Also, note you are always free to offer more leave than the law requires, as long as it is offered in a non-discriminatory manner; that is, to men and women. In 2017, Estée Lauder paid $1.1 million to settle a class action sex discrimination lawsuit for providing new mothers six weeks of paid parental leave and flexible return-to-work benefits, but only providing new fathers two weeks of leave and no additional benefits. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-17-18c.cfm

Second, work-life balance includes family time. Staff members can maintain productivity when their personal needs are being met.

Third, by providing paid parental leave to staff, you can boost your appeal, make the best candidates want to work for you, and increase staff retention. Organizations that increase their paid parental leave have seen as much as a 50 percent reduction in the attrition rate of new mothers. Millennials, in particular, value paid parental leave and work-life balance, and they will comprise 75 percent of the U.S. workforce in ten years.

Here are some parental leave best practices for family employers to consider:
 

  • Avoid policies that only provide paid leave to mothers or "primary" caregivers.
  • Make sure bonding benefits apply equally to both men and women and to those who give birth and those who adopted a child.
  • Although it is legal for family employers to require staff to use their paid vacation or sick leave before paid parental leave kicks in, doing so could lead to disgruntlement and make you less attractive to applicants.
  • You must allow qualified staff to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. If you offer paid parental leave, you can run FMLA leave concurrently. Put that provision in your handbook.

 
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