Expecting parents have an answer ready for typical questions like "when is the baby due?" and "is it a boy or a girl?" But a number of them are a bit fuzzy when it comes to this question: "What is your office's maternity/paternity leave policy?"
Depending on where they work, the answer can vary. The federal law on family leave for employers with 50 or more employees is 12 weeks of unpaid leave with employer benefits; if you have fewer than 50 employees, you aren't under any legal obligation to provide paid or unpaid leave to your employees. (Only three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—have paid family and medical leave.)
But as work-life balance becomes a bigger part of our national conversation, more attention is being paid to how businesses handle family leave. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently made paid parental leave a part of her platform, and Seattle just made news for recent legislation that will give four weeks of paid time off to new parents who work for the city.
With maternity and paternity leave in the spotlight, small-business owners should consider what their own policy is for their company. Though the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees those 12 unpaid weeks, there may be benefits to implementing a paid policy for your employees. "A body of research finds that these practices can benefit employers by improving their ability to recruit and retain talent, lowering costly worker turnover and minimizing loss of firm-specific skills and human capital, as well as boosting morale and worker productivity," according to the 2014 report "The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave" by the administration's council of economic advisors.
Small-business owners should determine what makes the most sense for them, their team and their business, suggests Ryan Hulland, director of business development of MonMan, an HVAC management company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"The short and sweet answer would be to give your employees as much time off as possible and practical for your small business," Hulland says. For MonMan, that's six weeks paid time off for both moms, dads, straight and same-sex couples, with flexibility to telecommute based on the family's situation.
Consider the following points when creating a family leave policy for your own company:
Do Your Research
MonMan's original policy was six weeks for moms and one to two weeks for dads. They based that on conversations they had with other companies and research they did online. Take a look at what's out there to inform what direction you take with your company's policy.
Stay Within the Law
The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees those 12 unpaid weeks per year for moms and dads, but there are nuances to the rules employees and employers must consider. FMLA leave only applies to those who have worked with you for at least 1,250 hours (or 24 hours per week) in a full year, and if you have at least 50 employees who work within 75 miles of the worksite, according to the Department of Labor's guide to the FMLA. You should work with an expert to help you craft a policy that doesn't break any rules.
Think About Employees' Needs Before and After Delivery
Pregnant employees are protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which keeps employers from treating moms-to-be differently. Since 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recovered $4.4 million for victims of pregnancy bias, which can include punishing moms who need time off for doctor's visits.
"Once you find out your employee is going to be a mom or dad, you need to immediately open up some honest discussions about what they feel their needs will be, and how they can help the business prepare for their absence in eight to nine months’ time," Hulland says.
Support Your Staff While They're on Leave
While MonMan offers its employees six weeks paid time off, Hulland has found that some parents start transitioning back into work through telecommuting. "We try to provide all employees, regardless of job title or position, the tools they need if they choose to telecommute," Hulland says.
But know that telecommuting with a newborn looks different. "They will not be able to get as much work done as they thought, so I do my best to get things worked out ahead of time to compensate for that," Hulland says. "It’s not that I don’t trust the employees. It’s the fact that every child is different and it is very easy to underestimate how much time, work and love go into raising a new life."
Consider Offering Some Flexibility
"If the parents decide they need more than six weeks, their job is safe, and we try our best to work out a plan to where they can get compensated for the work they do at home—new child willing!" Hulland says. "So if they need more than six weeks, hopefully they can telecommute ‘part time’ and we can pay them accordingly until they come back full time.
"One of the most important things to keep in mind is that in today’s economy," he continues, "employees are looking for many things. It’s not just about a paycheck. Employees want stability. They want to feel like they are part of the team and are making real, lasting contributions to the business. Employees need to know there are real opportunities to grow in the business."
Providing a family leave policy that makes sense for both you and your employees could help provide that assurance.
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