Parental Leave: Why It Should Be An Important Part of Your Benefit Plan

by Lila Williams Director of Business Administration

by Lila Williams
Director of Business Administration

In my twelve years at Evia, I have had the privilege of giving birth to two daughters while utilizing our maternity plan at the time, which consisted of twelve weeks off, with six of those weeks paid. In May of 2015, the company decided to improve our parental leave benefit, rolling out a comprehensive maternity AND paternity leave plan. This new plan now includes twelve weeks off, ten of which are paid, for the birth or adoption of a child. While this change did have a financial impact on our business, we felt it was important to help lessen the impact on our employees of an already-large life change.

Currently, the United States is behind the rest of the first world in providing parental leave benefits. As explained in an article in the Washington Post, the U.S. “remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers.” This statistic is both staggering and disheartening - we need to do better. In addition, a recent U.S. Department of Labor blog highlights that “almost 47% of U.S. workers are women, 70% of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, and mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18 today, compared to 11% in 1960.” Knowing these statistics are helpful as I paint a familiar picture.

Picture this. You are a woman in the workforce and find out you are expecting. Once the reality of what’s to come sets in, you may start picturing how everything is going to pan out. Some questions that may go through your head can cause you to be overwhelmed.

  • How do you prepare for an extended leave from your job?

  • How much leave do you get and what, if any, is paid?

  • Will you be able to ease back in (whether via reduced hours or remote work) when you return from leave?

  • If you choose to breastfeed, how will you fit pumping into your schedule? Will there even be a private space for you to pump?

  • What if you must travel for work during your first few months back?

  • How will you do it all?

There is likely an internal resource at your company who can help address some of these questions, but I can tell you from experience that you should consider hiring someone who specializes in parental leave coaching. There is great value in having a third party/neutral player involved because components of a plan can be revealed that each party may be blind to.

And the coaching goes beyond just coming up with a leave plan. It ranges from prepping the individual with what she or he wants for their career path to how the individual wants to parent. Here at Evia, we launched a parental leave coaching program last year and have now had three employees who have used it. We have decided to refine the program some to engage the men in our office as well. So far, the feedback received and our ROI have been positive.

While U.S. companies as a whole are behind the rest of the world in implementing parental leave, there are some who are taking the initiative to lead in this area. One such company is Microsoft, who is now requiring that their vendors that provide contract workers for the company give those workers at least 12 weeks of paid leave after they have a child. The state of Washington also passed a parental leave law last year, which will take effect in 2020.

The transition to becoming a parent is hard enough. As Peter Kraue wrote in Amazing Parenting, “Parenthood: It’s about guiding the next generation and forgiving the last.” Consider for a moment the lasting impact you can make on someone as they look back on that time of their lives and realize they had a supportive employer…it may just make this parenting gig a little easier.