This week marked a major milestone for paid leave in the U.S. Twenty-five years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides approximately 60 percent of employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year—along with their existing group health benefits—to care for a new baby, sick relative or a personal medical condition.
Though the legislation was considered a major victory in the U.S.—where job protected leave had never been federally mandated—it still left a lot to be desired. Namely, it excludes those who work at companies with fewer than 50 employees, it doesn’t offer income replacement and the length of leave pales in comparison to countries such as Estonia, Finland and the Czech Republic, all of which offer over 100 weeks of paid paternal leave to their employees.
And to this day, that policy remains unchanged: The U.S. is still the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14 percent of civilian workers had access to paid leave in 2016, and that's only due to state laws or individual employer policies.
There is hope that the legislation might soon change, though. President Trump included a proposal for six weeks of paid paternal leave in his budget last year, and mentioned supporting a more progressive, paid family leave policy at this year’s State of the Union address.
FMLA and Recruiting Top Talent
While the politicians sort out the logistics of how to make paid paternal leave a reality in the U.S., what matters most to employers right now is how to comply with—and exceed—the requirements put forth by the FMLA.
According to a 2017 study of which benefits are most valued by job seekers, 42 percent of respondents said they consider a company’s paid parental leave policy when making an employment decision. With the unemployment rate holding steady at 4.1 percent, the talent market has become more competitive and employers must work to differentiate themselves if they want to attract the best new employees.
Strategies for Implementing Paternal Leave Policies
In order to help you stay ahead of the pack, we’ve compiled a list of strategies to implement in order to ensure your paternal leave policy is both compliant and attractive to today’s job seeker:
Evaluate the law. First and foremost, you need to make sure you’re FMLA complaint. Regulations currently vary from state-to-state, and even city-to-city, so it’s imperative that you do your due diligence and fully understand what is legally required of you before you put any parental leave policy into place.
Consult your local, state and federal laws to verify your compliance and avoid penalties.
Consider the costs. In an ideal world, you may want to offer your employees unlimited paternal leave in order to provide them with ample time to care for their newborn. In reality, that’s often not financially possible. You budget for your employee salaries each year, but if an employee is out on leave and not doing their job you have additional costs to consider, including lost productivity, overtime costs for current employees to cover the workload, or the cost of hiring temporary workers.
Before you implement a paternal leave plan, look at the numbers. How long have your employees taken parental leaves in the past? And what did that cost you? From there you can determine whether or not your organization can afford to formally extend its parental leave policy in the hopes of attracting—and retaining—top talent.
Track workloads. It’s great to consider the needs of employees taking paternal leave, but you can’t neglect the needs of your current workforce in the process. Before implementing a new parental leave policy, consider how responsibilities will shift in an employee’s absence and how long team members can realistically bear that extra workload.
Analyze your specific workforce’s needs. While surveys show that job seekers care about parental leave benefits, each company’s workforce is different. So before you make an assumption based on the general population, ask your employees what they want. You want your potential parental leave policy to meet their actual needs, not those you’ve extrapolated from a study.
Before you even sit down to reconsider your parental leave policy, survey your workforce and find out how they’d prefer their benefits dollars to be spent.
Now that you’ve attracted great candidates with your new policy, it’s time to focus on bringing them into your organization. Check out the many benefits of preboarding employees.