How do I create a parental leave policy?

Parental leave is a chunk of time employees can take off if they’ve just had a baby, adopted a child, and in some cases, become foster parents. Leave comes in many different forms. From transition programs to gift baskets, the policies out there are as diverse as the companies offering them.

Parental leave laws

Today, the U.S is one of the only developed countries that has no paid parental leave law in place. However, we do have something called the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which tells employers what they can and cannot do about unpaid leave. Specifically, the FMLA requires companies with 50 or more employees (who are located within 75 miles of an office or worksite) to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents. This rule applies to all full-time workers, regardless of their gender, and can be taken over the course of a 12-month period.

On top of the federal FMLA rule are various state rules that pack in even more weight. For example, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey all mandate companies to provide paid leave, which makes the “unpaid” part of the federal rule not applicable. Unsure which law applies to you? See what your state says here.

How to build a policy

  1. Leave room for flexibility: Under the FMLA guidelines, people can take 12 weeks during a 12-month timeframe, which employees can then spread out before and/or after the actual birth. People can get creative and start with 3-4 day workweeks in the beginning, or take leave when their partner isn’t taking theirs, to spread out the amount of time they don’t have to pay for childcare.
  2. Make the transition easy:  A transition program can help people have an easier time getting back into the swing of things. It also lowers the amount of people who decide not to return to work. Another option is to allow new parents the ability to work from home or work part-time right when they get back.
  3. Be gender neutral:  Instead of singling out a certain gender or family dynamic, try to use language and rules that are applicable to everyone.
  4. Practice what you preach:  Every employee should take advantage of their company’s leave policy, no matter their role. Doing so sends a message to the rest of the team that it’s not only okay to take it, it’s encouraged.
  5. Get it in your handbook:  Once you’re finished wrapping up your policy, get it approved by an HR expert, and then slip it into your employee handbook. After that, make sure everyone — parents and non-parents alike — get their hands on the latest version.

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