Growing a family should be a joyful, exciting time. But for many employees, it is also very stressful as they’re forced to figure out parental leave and how taking that leave could affect them financially.
We’ve discussed before how unique employee benefits are now critical for companies to attract and retain top talent. Well, parental leave is something candidates expect — and they want more than the standard three months of unpaid time. Employers nationwide have an excellent opportunity to stand out by adding a generous parental leave policy to their benefits packages.
You likely already know that the U.S. is WAY behind most of the world in this area. Fortunately, you can decide how you want to design your parental leave policy. So, why not take inspiration from countries on the cutting edge of this benefit?
Show potential candidates and current employees that you care about them, their families, and their work-life balance. Below, we’re covering:
- FMLA parental leave guidelines
- Several countries leading the way
- 5 tips for developing your policy
FMLA Parental Leave Guidelines
Currently, the U.S. has no paid parental leave law in place. We’re the only country without one besides Papua New Guinea!
We do have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers with 50 or more employees (located within 75 miles of an office or worksite) to offer new parents up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave throughout a 12-month period. All full-time employees, regardless of gender, are eligible as long as they’ve worked 1,250 hours for the employer before taking leave.
Several states have their own parental leave laws, which may trump the FMLA. For example, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington, California, and Washington, D.C. require employers to provide paid leave.
Countries Leading the Way in Parental Leave
Many Scandinavian countries are ahead of the game when it comes to parental leave. Check out some of their inclusive and generous laws.
All parents in Finland receive leave, regardless of gender or whether they’re the biological parents. Each parent receives 164 days, or about seven months. One parent can transfer 69 days from their leave to the other parent. And single parents can take the amount of two parents — that’s 328 days!
New Danish moms enjoy four weeks before birth and 14 weeks after, all at full pay. Fathers can take two consecutive weeks off during the 14 weeks.
Parents then have 32 additional weeks of leave to split as they desire. They can also take an extra 14 weeks if the child or parent gets sick. Legally, the government must cover 52 weeks of parental leave pay, but this may not be at the full salary.
In Sweden, new mothers get 18 weeks of maternity leave. New parents are then eligible for 480 days of leave at 80% of their regular pay, which they can split however they choose.
Plus, 90 of the 480 days are reserved just for fathers to promote bonding between father and child during a phase when mothers often spend most of the time with the child.
Iceland allows 12 months of parental leave for children who are born, adopted, or taken into permanent foster care. Each parent gets six months, but one may choose to transfer one month to the other parent. Leave is paid at 80% of the employee’s salary.
Norwegian mothers can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay. Fathers get 15 weeks of non-transferable paid leave intended just for them. Parents can receive an additional 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income.
New moms get 18 weeks of fully paid parental leave, while new fathers get four weeks. Together, they get an additional 156 weeks to share!
Although not in Scandinavia, Germany has an interesting parental leave law. Employees can:
- Request unpaid leave of up to three years
- Split the time between both parents
- Decide not to work at all or only to work part-time (up to 32 hours a week)
To supplement the unpaid time, new parents can apply for parental allowance. This state-funded program pays up to 1,800 euros a month.
5 Tips to Develop a Competitive Parental Leave Policy
Now that you have some ideas for how you can improve or develop your new parental leave policy, keep these tips in mind as you go through the process.
1. Make it flexible
Allow parents to take leave when they need it most, either before or after the child arrives. The FMLA states that people can take 12 weeks during a 12-month period, which employees can spread out before or after the birth or adoption or once foster care begins. So let employees do what works best for them.
You can also incorporate ways to make the transition back to the office smoother, such as allowing new parents to:
- Take their leave at periodic intervals throughout the year after they welcome the new child
- Ease back into the office with a part-time schedule
- Balance their time off with their co-parent’s to reduce childcare costs
- Work from home
2. Specify who is eligible for parental leave
Explain who can take parental leave in your policy and who may not. This also means defining who is a “parent,” which may include:
- Biological mother or father, gender-neutral partner, or same-sex partner
- Foster parent
- Adoptive parent
3. Keep it gender-neutral
Every family is different! If you want to get ahead and show your team that your company is inclusive, remaining gender-neutral is one way to promote equity. You can even get ahead of some of the countries listed above whose policies are still somewhat built around traditional mother and father roles.
Generally speaking, use language that applies to everyone rather than singles out a particular gender or family dynamic.
4. Promote equal pay
Speaking of equity, let’s talk about parental leave policies that support equal pay. Research shows that time out of the workforce is associated with lower wages — which, unsurprisingly, affects women more because they’re more likely to take parental leave.
Create a policy that encourages all parents to take time off, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or family structure.
5. Include the essentials
Finally, ensure your policy includes all the essentials to answer employees’ most important questions:
- How to apply for parental leave
- Eligibility requirements
- Maximum number of weeks an employee can take
- Whether benefits are limited in the event of multiple births or adoptions in the same 12-month period
- If the employee needs to use other paid leave first (i.e., vacation and sick leave)
- The paid leave rate, if applicable
- Paycheck schedule
- If the policy covers union workers
- Whether parental leave will run concurrently with FMLA leave
Once you develop a thoughtful parental leave policy, make sure everyone knows you genuinely want them to use it! Leadership can encourage all employees to take parental leave by using it themselves. The message comes from the top down, so show your team that you want them to take advantage of this benefit.
Do you need help designing or updating your parental leave policy? BlueLion will review your current benefits and guide you along the way! Contact us at 603-818-4131 or firstname.lastname@example.org today.
The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.