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New Data Suggests It's Time to Assess Your Parental Leave Policies

Reviewing parental leave policies.

Findings reported on by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) raise important questions about whether it's time to reevaluate your company's parental leave policy. According to the 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace survey, fathers in the U.S. receive 22 days of paternity leave on average, while mothers receive an average of 41 days of maternity leave. While longer maternity leaves may include disability leave to recover from childbirth, it does bring several potential issues to the forefront when evaluating a company's parental leave policy. Here are some factors to consider when looking at your own policies.

Assess Your Current Leave Policy

Employers should take the time to evaluate their current parental leave policy. What is your current stated policy for time off available to new parents, and is there parity or disparity between the time offered to mothers and fathers? As the EEOC notes, "Leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms. If, for example, an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth (e.g. to provide the mothers time to bond with and/or care for the baby), it cannot lawfully fail to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose."

Look at the Impact of FMLA and State Regulations

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is another consideration for employers. FMLA provides covered employees up to 12 weeks of time off per year; the time is unpaid, job-protected, and can only be used in connection with certain qualifying family or medical reasons. One of the reasons that an employee – whether male or female – can take time off is the birth of a child. However, it should be noted there are specific factors that determine whether a person is eligible. They must be employed for at least twelve months, have worked 1250 hours during the past year, and work at a location with at least 50 employees in a 75 mile radius. Certain states also have regulations related to unpaid time off for family and/or medical reasons. Employers should consult an HR expert or labor and employment attorney to ensure they understand which factors impact their parental leave policies and ensure they’re in compliance with relevant regulations.

If, for example, an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth, it cannot lawfully fail to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose. Guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Review Your Policy for Potential Unlawful Discrimination

As SHRM notes, if a disparity exists between the days off offered to mothers and those offered to fathers for baby bonding, employees may question whether this is discriminatory based on gender. Longer time off given to the mother could represent an implicit assumption that mothers take the dominant role in early childcare. It may also inadvertently support gender stereotypes by forcing mothers who have more available leave to stay home with their children, while fathers go back to work more quickly. These factors could have implications for your workforce, your company culture, and even potential future legal claims.

Ensure That You Comply with Federal, State, and Local Laws

Any discussion around pregnancy and leave raises a critical issue. It is imperative that your policy comply with any federal, state, and local regulations related to these issues. Consult a knowledgeable human resources provider or labor and employment attorney for a full audit of the laws that impact your business and help designing a policy that is right for your business.

Evaluate Whether Your Policies Need an Update

Results from the SHRM survey showed that a disparity exists between the average number of days off provided for new mothers versus new fathers. There are a number of factors to consider around this important discussion – and the latest information may create a natural opportunity for your company to assess and potentially revise its current leave policy.

Is it time to evaluate your parental leave policy? Now's a great time to look at what you're offering and determine whether it makes sense to improve on your current benefits.

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