Benefits, Leave Management, Policy, and Compliance, Leave Policy/Compliance

Parental Leave Policy Options

Does your organization offer parental leave beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Do you offer paid parental leave? Are your parental leave options available for both mothers and fathers?

familyWhile employers in the United States are not yet required to provide parental leave,* some choose to do so in order to have a competitive benefits package. Or, they may do so to attract and retain individuals who may otherwise drop out of the workforce while raising children but would prefer to remain working if they had good options. Employees today often cite work/life balance as a key factor in deciding where to work, and parental leave (also known as family leave) is one way to provide more balance for those with children.

*The FMLA, for those employers with more than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius that are subject to it, requires the employer to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who qualify after the birth or placement of a child. But the FMLA does not apply to all employers or employees and does not require the leave to be paid. Some states have stricter requirements.

Parental Leave Benefit Options

When offering a voluntary form of parental leave, there are a lot of possible options for employers. Here are a few examples of what may be offered:

  • Paid leave, paid at either full pay or at a specified percentage of previous wages (usually with a cap, which will apply to higher earners), applicable for a specified number of weeks each year to employees who qualify. Employers that offer this type of benefit often allow this leave to be taken either in whole or in segments, with all of it being taken within the first year or first 2 years of the birth or placement of a child.
  • Unpaid leave, which may be a voluntary option offered by employers that are not subject to the FMLA.
  • Pregnancy leave and/or pregnancy disability leave, offered to expectant mothers who are experiencing difficulties during pregnancy or as a result of childbirth that make it difficult to continue with their previous work schedule. This leave could be separate from the FMLA for employers that are subject to it, or it could be administered concurrently, with this leave being paid until it runs out.
  • A hybrid of paid and unpaid leave—paid for a limited amount of time and unpaid (or paid at a much lower percentage of former pay) for a longer period.
  • Unpaid leave offered as an extension beyond the FMLA to use after the FMLA runs out and have more time without fearing job loss.

Note: Most employers today that are offering a voluntary parental leave policy do not differentiate which parent takes the leave (with the exception of pregnancy-related leave). This is actually the basis behind the term “parental” leave rather than “maternity” or “paternity” leave. This is ideal because it is fair to all parents and encourages families to take leave in a way that works best for them without incentivizing one gender to take more time away from the workforce.

Previously, it was more common for parental leave options to be contingent upon being the primary caregiver for a child. Some employers offering parental leave have removed such requirements, noting that having such a requirement today could appear to be discriminatory.

Does your organization offer any form of parental leave beyond the FMLA? What has your experience been with it?