Take a moment and think of some sad movies — the ones that made you cry in the theater or make you teary just thinking about them now. Odds are, several movies on that list involve the relationships between parents and children. Think of the scene in Dumbo, when Dumbo’s mom cradles him in her trunk through the bars of the circus wagon window while singing the song “Baby Mine.” Or maybe Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health, “the relationship between children and their parents or caregivers is one of the most important relationships in a child’s life, often lasting well into adulthood.” Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 15 percent of all workers have access to paid family leave. Way back in 1963, paid maternity leave was recommended in a report of the President Commission on the Status of Women, saying “paid maternity leave or comparable insurance benefits should be provided for women workers; employers, unions and government should explore the best means of accomplishing this purpose.” Yet, according to a September 2016 article by the Pew Research Center, “the U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.” The article goes on to state, “in almost half of two-parent households, both parents now work full-time, and in 40 percent of all families with children, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner.”
Many employers are finally tackling this shortcoming.
A variety of private companies offer paid family leave, including American Express, Ernst & Young and IBM. Last August, Microsoft expanded their paid parental leave policy and now requires its suppliers to offer a minimum of 12 weeks paid parental leave. Its policy applies to “suppliers with more than 50 employees and covers supplier employees who perform substantial work for Microsoft.”
Public sector organizations are also creating paid parental leave policies. California law grants six weeks of leave at 60-70 percent of pay with a maximum of $1,252 per week for birth or adoption of a child or to care for a seriously ill family member. New Jersey law ensures six weeks at 66 percent of pay with a maximum of $677 per week. Rhode Island law requires four weeks at 60 percent of pay with a maximum of $831 a week for private companies. New York’s paid parental leave began with eight weeks in 2018, expanded to 10 weeks in 2019 and increases to 12 weeks in 2021. Washington State’s law takes effect in 2020 and provides 12 weeks with a sliding percentage of base pay and a maximum of $1,000. Washington, D.C. has eight weeks at 90 percent with a maximum of $1,000 for birth or adoption, six weeks for a sick relative and two weeks for a personal medical emergency. San Francisco provides six weeks fully paid for birth or adoption of a child. And according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 22 counties have paid family or parental leave policies.
What are some things to consider when creating and implementing such a policy? First, gather statistics regarding the number of maternity and paternity leaves employees have taken over the last several years. Be certain to note any particularly high years, with baby booms. This will assist in projecting the costs of such a program. Second, consider design options of a paid parental leave program that will best meet the needs of your organization and fit culturally with your other, existing leave programs. Other questions to ask:
Who would be eligible? Would employees need to be employed for six months or a year in order to be eligible for the leave? Must the months of employment be continuous? Must the employee work a certain number of hours a week?
What types of situations would the leave cover? In addition to birth and adoption, how about fostering a child? What about still births, miscarriages, prenatal bed rest? Would the policy provide leave for sick relatives or personal medical emergencies?
How many weeks of paid leave will be offered? Some policies differentiate between leave for the addition of family members and leave for illness.
How often can the leave be used? Are there a certain number of weeks in a year? Can it be used intermittently?
What is the rate of partial pay or wage replacement? Will employees using the leave receive 100 percent of their base rate of pay? Is there a sliding scale?
Is there a maximum or cap on the wage replacement? A cap can aid in projecting the costs, especially at the inception of the program.
What order is the leave used in? Is the leave required to be taken before any other type of leave?
Is there a payback provision? A policy might require an employee to return to work for a minimum of 90 days after using the leave unless failing to return to work is related to the onset, recurrence or continuation of a serious health condition of the employee or the child. If so, how will you define serious health condition? Will any payback be prorated if they return for a portion of the time?
Allowing employees to take time to bond with a new child entering the family is not just important for families; it also attracts and retains employees. According to a November 2017 article in The New York Times, 83 percent of American millennials would “be more likely to join a company” with a paid parental leave program.
At the end of the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, asks his dad, “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch?” His father replies, “I’d like that.” Just one more tear-inspiring movie about the bond between parents and children. Only this time, the tears are for joy.