Having a baby. Adopting a child. Both monumental events that can dramatically change your employees’ personal lives, their priorities and their immediate needs.
How companies treat these events, and the parental leave policies they offer, are quickly becoming market differentiators, and a critical “must have” for many prospective employees. Today, having a generous, well-defined parental leave policy in place can mean the difference between hiring top talent, or losing them to another company.
As a result, many organizations are rethinking their parental leave policies—increasing the length of leave, enhancing paternity leave options, as well as making the policies more inclusive and gender neutral.
Although every company’s policy could look a little different, they all must adhere to some specific regulatory requirements. We’ve highlighted those, provided some tips and included a sample parental leave policy here.
FMLA laws and parental leave entitlements
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the only federal policy that can be applied to parental leave. It is a requirement of any public or private employer with 50 or more employees, as well as all public agencies, and public and private elementary and secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees.
The FLMA entitles individuals who work for covered organizations up to 12 weeks of paid leave within a 12-month period starting on the first date of leave, if they meet these eligibility requirements:
- Have worked for the organization for at least 12 months total, working a minimum of 20 workweeks a year
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours within the past 12 months
- Work for a company located within a 75-mile radius with at least 50 employees
The law leaves it up to individual employers as to whether they will require employees to use paid time off (PTO), vacation, or sick days for some or all of their leave under FMLA.
Maternity leave is a type of parental leave that refers to the period of time that a new mother takes off from work following the birth or the adoption of a child. Although there is no national maternity leave law, maternity leave is included as part of the FLMA.
However, a number of states have passed state mandates extending FLMA entitlements to qualified individuals working at organizations with fewer than 50 employees. Some other states have categorized pregnancy as a “temporary disability,” which means employers that offer paid leave for other types of disabilities must also include pregnancy in these benefits.
In addition, nine states (at the time of this writing) have mandated their own maternity leave laws.
So, before revising your parental leave policies, makes sure you’re up-to-speed on the different requirements of states in which the business operates to ensure your policy is in compliance.
How much time should employees get?
If employees are eligible for FMLA entitlements, they should receive a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and have the ability to come back to the same job they left or an equivalent job in terms of responsibility and salary.
Different state laws vary in their mandates. For example, a company with 25 people is not federally required to offer leave under the FMLA. However, if that company is located in New York State, the state law requires that private sector companies offer 10 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents. In Montana, which has its own maternity leave law, a “reasonable” time off for maternity leave is considered six weeks.
Companies are increasingly going beyond what Is required by law when writing their own policies. The best policies are reflective of company culture and values, while still being mindful of budget.
Procedures for filing for parental leave
The procedure for requesting parental leave is as follows:
- Provide notice: Expectant parents must provide verbal or written notice regarding the need for leave to the department manager or human resources manager. When the leave date is foreseeable, as with a pregnancy, employees must provide the company 30 days notice.
- Documentation: Within five days of being given notice that the employee is requesting leave, the HR manager must provide the employee with a Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities, and may request a medical certification or physician-supported documents to verify the need for leave.
- FMLA designation notice: Within five days of the employee submitting the requested documentation, an HR manager must provide a written response to the employees’ request for FMLA leave using the FMLA Designation Notice.
Knowing that life can throw curveballs, employers should put a procedure in place to activate when emergencies or unexpected circumstances (for example, mandatory bedrest during pregnancy) prevent employees from being able to give a 30-day notice before starting leave.
Returning to work after FLMA or maternity leave
An employee who takes FMLA leave will be able to return to his or her former position or a position of equivalent status, pay, and benefits after leave has ended. Because that return can often be challenging for new parents, some organizations have begun adding options to make that transition back to work a little easier. These include:
- Reduced or flexible work hours for a few weeks or months following leave
- Remote work or hybrid work-from-home options
- On-site day care, or a daycare allowance
- Lactation rooms
Sample parental leave policy
Here’s a sample draft of what a parental leave policy should include:
Sample policy draft
Parental Leave Overview (please read carefully)
The following policy offers guidance for anything you may need in regarding the care or expectancy of a child, including but not limited to:
- Maternity leave
- Paternity leave
- Return to work process
[Insert if eligible] FMLA laws assert that eligible employees are provided 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave of absence following the birth or adoption of a child. You are eligible for this type of leave as you have
1) Worked with [insert company] for over 12 months
2) Worked with [insert company] for at least 1,250 hours
Our company offers [x months] of paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. You are further covered by short-term disability insurance, which permits you to request an additional [x months] of leave should you need to extend your leave for any medical reasons.
[If applicable] In addition, the primary caregiver may request up to an additional [x months] of leave without pay. In general, the period of parental leave should not extend beyond [insert total length of paid and unpaid leave].
While on approved leave, you will continue to receive [insert benefits currently provided] the same as active employees and will remain eligible for salary increases or bonuses. If you are an expectant parent, please discuss your paid leave intentions with your HR manager. We request [x days] notice before your departure date.
This policy supplements your FMLA benefits but does not supersede the need for a separate FMLA policy for covered employers.
Returning to Work
It is our priority to reinstate you to your former position or to a former position of equivalent pay, benefits, and terms. Further, it’s important your return to work is smooth. We offer the following considerations for new parents, to be further discussed with your manager and HR manager:
- Flexible working hours (to be determined with manager)
- Remote working days
- Paid daycare up to 50%
We will be in communication as your paid leave is coming to a close and are available for any questions or concerns.
Legal Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only. Although every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, Payscale makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. If you have any concerns, consult an employment lawyer.