How does your parental leave policy stack up? Is it fair? Equitable? Competitive?

Family leave has been subject to much scrutiny and debate in recent years. And two current employment trends are putting additional pressure on employers to take a closer look at their current parental leave policies:

  1. Employees want better work-life balance as they seek a higher quality of life.
  2. Unemployment is the lowest its been in X years, putting candidates in the driver's seat.

While it may not be feasible for every company to offer monetary coverage for employees while they deal with the rigors of welcoming a new life into the world, now is a good time to revisit your current policy to determine if the long-term benefits of increased job satisfaction, employee engagement and retention would offset the costs.  

Here are some key factors to consider when evaluating – or developing – your family leave policy.

Stand out from your competition with paid parental leave

In 2016, only 14% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave, according to the National Compensation Survey (NCS), which the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts each year. Unpaid family leave is available to 88% of all civilian workers primarily due to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

It is a bit surprising to learn that America is only one of three countries without paid maternity/paternity leave, but it is understandable that paid leave can be cost-prohibitive. But, as Fast Company pointed out, the cost of offering paid leave may ultimately be less than the long-term cost of losing a valued employee to another firm over this issue.

Additionally, offering this benefit can potentially boost morale and bolster the company's standing in the industry, possibly reducing turnover or invigorating recruitment efforts. These are a few reasons cited by Walmart and Starbucks who expanded their parental leave programs earlier this year. Sure, not every company has the wallet of a Walmart or Starbucks, but there can be a happy medium between not offering paid leave at all and creating a fiscally unsustainable plan. The potential long-term benefits of paid leave are worth re-evaluating your current policy.

How to design inclusive maternity and paternity leave policiesFair and inclusive parental leave policies can help employers stand out from the crowd.

Go gender neutral

We no longer live in a society where one parent is the default caretaker and parental leave policies should reflect this progression. Not to mention the potential legal ramifications of gender distinctions within a parental leave policy. According to Hilary Rau and Joan C. Williams with the Center for WorkLife Law, segmenting a parental leave policy between primary and secondary caregivers is liable to engender legal trouble. They go on to say that the rise of the millennial generation in the workforce has also reduced employees' desire for primary-caregiver leave policies.

Talk about being a competitive differentiator! has a list of 15 companies that have great paternity leave policies. Only 15? Dads need to bond with their new child too, not to mention new Moms need lots of help and the in-laws can't always be there.

Keep it simple

Another way to ensure equanimity in parental leave is to issue only two kinds: According to Rau and Williams, the first should apply to mothers physically unable to carry out their work because of impending or recently completed childbirth, or any related issues. The second should be a general parental and family leave that all workers can enjoy.

And remember, whatever policy your company offers, make sure it is fair and equitable for the entire organization – hourly, salaried, part-time or full-time, all new parents deserve time to bond with their new baby and adjust to a new life with children.