7 tips to improve your paid parental leave policy


7 tips to improve your paid parental leave policy

7 tips to improve your paid parental leave policy

Parenting is tough. It’s even tougher when the fourth trimester is shared with the demands of work while recovering and adapting to one of the biggest changes in a parent’s life. The U.S. is one of just six countries in the world that does not mandate paid parental leave, which puts many new parents in the difficult position of having to choose between bonding with their child—or earning a paycheck.

Your company likely already has a paid parental leave policy in place. If not, it’s time to ask yourself, “Why don’t we?” Family care benefits, including paid parental leave, are some of the benefits employees say they want the most. But it’s also important to make sure you’re not just checking a box, but providing a comprehensive parental leave policy that gives employees generous time off, and is mindful that some may prefer to work a reduced schedule when they first return. 

Here are a few tips to help you improve your existing paid parental leave policy to ensure it’s legally compliant, meeting your employees’ needs, and giving you an edge over your competitors.

1. Scope out the competition

Providing paid time off for employees to care for a new child helps isn’t just the right thing to do, it can also instill loyalty in current employees, and help with recruiting future workers. But to ensure that your company’s parental leave policy stands out, you need to be proactive about keeping tabs on the benefits being offered by your competitors. That way you can make sure that your parental leave benefits are just as good, if not better, than what they offer. 

2. Stay on top of legally mandated updates

In addition to updating your parental leave policy to be more competitive, you’ll also need to stay in the know on evolving laws and trends in parental leave. For example, a state you operate in could pass a law mandating paid parental leave, which may necessitate changes to your current policy. Or, you might hire a remote employee working in a state that already has a paid family leave and/or maternity disability program that entitles employees to receive payments directly from the state for leave. In that case, you’ll want to update your parental leave policy to stipulate that the employee is required to apply for those benefits, and then coordinate the receipt of those benefits with your parental leave team. 

3. Re-evaluate who is eligible under your paid parental leave policy

While FMLA mandates one year of employment before employees qualify for (unpaid) parental leave, employers are free to create their own paid parental leave policy requirements. It could be six months of employment, or even three. Remember, you should be focused on ruling people in, not ruling them out (within reason, of course). Your policy should also outline parental leave options for non-eligible employees, such as PTO, short-term disability benefits, or a leave of absence. 

4. Define (or redefine) the term “parent”

Take a look at your current parental leave policy. Does it spell out exactly who is considered a parent? Is it inclusive? For example, you might need to update the language around who qualifies for paid parental leave to include the spouse or partner of a birth parent—not just the birth parent. And don’t forget about parents who’ve adopted a child, welcomed a child via surrogate, or are fostering a child—they’re going through a life adjustment too!

5. Increase the length of your parental leave

We’re not going to tell you how many weeks of parental leave to offer, but it should be long enough to truly give employees time to unplug, bond, and care for their new child. Update your policy by clearly stating how much paid parental leave workers are now eligible to take after they welcome a child. Then, specify if the leave must be taken all at once, or if employees have the option to divvy it up over a certain period of time, like a year. It’s a good idea to also document any impact on the parental leave policy if both parents happen to work for your company. 

6. Implement or extend a gradual return-to-work policy

Making the transition back to the office after spending a significant amount of time at home with a new child can be jarring. Help your new parents acclimate by allowing them to gradually build back up to full-time hours. 

This update to your parental leave policy should clearly state how many weeks a parent can work reduced hours, who needs to sign off on a gradual return-to-work schedule (i.e., HR and/or the employee’s manager) and what, if any, rules apply to the amount of hours they must work each week while ramping back up to full time. Here’s a sample eight week return-to-work schedule as an example:

First 2 weeks3 days/20 hours
Second 2 weeks3 days/24 hours
Third 2 weeks4 days/28 hours
Fourth 2 weeks4 days/32 hours

7. Roll out and communicate your updated parental leave policy

After expanding your paid parental leave policy, you should use multiple touchpoints to communicate this exciting update to staff, including:

  • Email: for those who check it, this is the best place to connect.
  • All-hands meetings: Celebrate this accomplishment with a company-wide announcement from your leadership, proving they support the concept.
  • Slack or Microsoft Teams: For those that chat, a quick update with a link to more info may be the best way to catch their attention
  • Team meetings: Arm your managers with the information. They are your “front-line” to employees and often have the best pulse of the workforce.
  • ERGs: Who better to celebrate this news with than with your parent employee resource groups? Give them the information so they can spread the word far and wide with their internal community. 
  • Update your company handbook: Believe it or not, when people are planning for major life events, they may go back and reference this

Keep a pulse on your employees’ feedback. Include questions about the parental leave policy in your employee benefits surveys. That way you can get instant feedback on what employees think about the current policy, and any suggestions they might have on how to make it even better. 

Want to make the parental leave process even more frictionless for you and your employees? Check out The Ultimate Parental Leave Checklist. It’s a step-by-step guide for HR leaders, managers, and employees that breaks down what everyone needs to do to ensure a smooth transition before, during, and after parental leave.