Offering a generous maternity leave plan can help smaller businesses compete for top talent. If you also offer paternity leave, you’ll stand out even more. But how do you communicate and implement these plans with your workforce? You want to foster a smooth transition — both when an employee goes on leave and when he or she returns — and encourage new parents to actually take advantage of the allotted time. Here are some tips for making the most out of your parental leave policy.
Parental Leave: A Perk or an Expectation?
Parental leave should make your business much more attractive to new talent. After all, only four states — California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — require partially paid parental leave. San Francisco just became the first U.S. city to require full paid parental leave. The tide is turning, and parental leave is growing increasingly popular. More employees expect at least some form of leave, and companies that offer it get great PR and even seem to be outdueling each other in terms of providing generous parental leave. Netflix, for example, was all over the news in 2015 when it announced an unlimited leave policy for the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
How Does This Type of Leave Affect Your Insurance Coverage?
Because the federal government only requires unpaid leave in limited circumstances covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, exactly how leave fits into your business depends on your state and your health plan. Some companies let parents add sick time to their maternity leave to extend it. Some require that all paid parental leave be used immediately after the child is born or adopted, while others are more flexible. Depending on your location, state or temporary disability insurance may cover some maternity leave for up to six weeks. It’s important to remember that the FMLA also applies to adoptions and can be used up to 12 months after placement. Consult with an attorney to see what laws or regulations apply to your business.
Getting Employees on Board
After you’ve figured out the type of maternity or paternity plan you want to offer, make sure your employees understand it. Build the plan around the entire family to include both new moms and dads. Make sure your employees understand that the plan includes parents of newly adopted children, too. Spell out policies on supplemental options, such as flex time or working from home. Encourage your employees to share any concerns or questions they may have.
Create a Culture That Encourages Taking Leave
Even if you offer paid parental leave, some employees may feel uncomfortable taking it. People often worry that if they take the leave, they’ll lose opportunities to get promoted or even keep their job down the line. It’s important to avoid this type of thinking from spreading by creating a clear culture of acceptance. If you have executive staff members who are expecting, make sure they take their leave to set a good example. Present the leave as an expectation, rather than telling your employees to just take the time “if they need it.”
Have a Temporary Succession Plan in Place
Help your new mom or dad feel comfortable taking time off by having a comprehensive temporary succession plan. Designate employees or a temporary hire to cover your employee’s work, and make time for that successor to be trained thoroughly by the outgoing parent. This will help your employee feel more comfortable about leaving.
Being open about your parental leave plan is essential to its success. Make sure your employees know they’re encouraged — even expected — to take advantage of the program. Some health plans even offer newborn and parenting resources for when your employees return. Whether they’re leaving or returning, make that transition as smooth as possible and completely comfortable for the new parents.
Stephanie Dwilson has extensive experience providing expertise on topics including health, law and marketing. She’s a science journalist published by Fox News, a marketing expert and an attorney with expertise in personal injury law. She’s also a small business expert featured by Businessweek and Millionaire Blueprints magazine and has worked as a marketing consultant for ministries and as a PR lead for one of the largest churches in America.