Glossary of HR Terms

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Parental Leave

Parental Leave Deconstructed: Advantages & Implementation

What Is Parental Leave?

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace where the lines between personal and professional life often blur, you can deliver a game-changing benefit to employees building their families: parental leave. As business leaders and HR professionals, you can shape a work environment that attracts top talent and supports and empowers working parents. Parental leave is a powerful benefit to offer as you build that supportive culture. 

Discover what parental leave is, why it matters, and how to implement the right parental leave policies to support your workforce.

Parental Leave’s Meaning and Why It Matters

Parental leave is an employment benefit that allows parents to take time off from work to care for and bond with their children. Forms include maternity and paternity leave for biological parents, adoptive parents, and legal guardians to bond with a new child. Parental leave can be paid time off, unpaid leave, or a combination thereof. 

Benefits for Employees

Parental leave provides time for a parent to bond with their child, adjust to their new responsibilities as a parent, and take time off from work to support their family. Parental leave can also help reduce stress and anxiety for parents who may be overwhelmed by the demands of a new child. Time away from work can help new parents be more present and engaged in their child’s life, which can also help them fare better when they return to work.

Additionally, even if it’s unpaid, parental leave can help to reduce financial stress by allowing workers to take time off to care for their child without worrying about losing their job. This job security provides peace of mind and stability during a critical period of their lives. 

Benefits for Employers

Research cited by the congressional Joint Economic Committee indicates that employers can reap several advantages by offering paid parental leave. Paid parental leave makes employees more likely to stay on, which can save a company time and money in the long run. When workers have time to bond with their children before returning to work, businesses experience increased productivity and higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Furthermore, providing parental leave helps employers create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Inclusive parental leave policies, for example, support LGBTQ+ employees and non-biological parents by offering them the same benefits as any other parent.

Want to learn more? Check out our parental leave webinar to discover why you can’t nail employee experience without parental leave. 👶

Basic Parental Leave Requirements

Outside the U.S., many countries mandate 12 or more weeks of paid parental leave, although maternity leave gets more attention in policy. Employer requirements for length of leave and pay rates vary by country and region.

In the U.S., there’s no federal policy mandating paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees with job-protected, unpaid leave for qualifying family and medical reasons. Covered employers include private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and local educational agencies. Eligible employees must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and have accumulated 1,250 hours of service. 

FMLA leave can be used for various reasons, such as the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, the employee’s own serious health condition, and reasons related to a family member’s military service. Employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. The FMLA offers job protection and continuation of group health benefits, among other requirements.

Parental Benefits and Pay: Going Beyond Basic Leave

Many forward-thinking organizations recognize the importance of offering comprehensive parental benefits and pay to support employees during this significant life transition. 

Learn how you can provide additional financial and nonfinancial support to your workforce.

Paid Leave

Many countries — although not the U.S. — require employers to provide paid parental leave. In the U.S., several states have passed paid family and medical leave laws. Many employers have joined this trend even when not legally required, with 39% of employers offering this benefit — up from 2022 but equal to 2020’s findings.

Flexible Work Schedules

Flexible work schedules allow employees to adjust their working hours or days to better accommodate other needs, including parental responsibilities. This type of schedule takes many forms, such as formal arrangements to shift work hours, rearrange hours to take time off during the standard workday, or work remotely instead of on-site.

Extended Benefits and Support Programs

Employers can offer a range of extended benefits and support to employees on parental leave. One such program is employee assistance programs (EAPs) that offer counseling services, stress-management resources, and guidance on work-life balance. An EAP can help parents navigate the emotional and practical challenges of parenthood.

Employers can also offer educational resources and workshops tailored to new parents. These sessions can cover topics including infant care, parenting skills, and managing the demands of work and family life. The employer can arrange these directly or cover their cost as part of benefits programs.

Job Protection and Return-to-Work Policies

Job protection and return-to-work policies provide job security and stability by protecting employees from discrimination or termination based on their parental status. Return-to-work policies help to ease the return from parental leave back into the workplace so that returning workers can continue to balance their work and family commitments.

Mental and Physical Health Support

New parents can struggle to balance child care and their own health. Mental and physical health support for new parents is important to ensure their well-being. 

Mental health support commonly includes access to resources and services such as counseling or other forms of therapy, support groups, ‌or other health services. 

Physical health support for new parents may include access to specialized healthcare, including prenatal and postpartum care, as well as information on nutrition and exercise.

4 Factors Influencing Parental Leave Policies

When designing parental leave policies, start by meeting legal requirements. Then, look at other relevant factors, including your organizational culture. Here are four factors that influence your parental leave approach.

Parental Leave Laws and Regulations

Federal and local laws often mandate the minimum parental leave that employers must provide, although they may choose to offer more generous leave benefits. For instance, in the U.S., many employers offer paid parental leave even though federal law doesn’t require it.

Corporate Culture and Values

Companies that prioritize employee well-being might be more inclined to offer generous parental leave policies, as supporting their workforce is a cultural value. Companies that value diversity and inclusion are also likely to offer family-friendly policies, such as flexible work hours or generous parental leave. These policies create an environment that supports all workers’ needs, including employees with children.

Economic and Business Considerations

Many employers take economic and business considerations into account when determining their parental leave policies. For example, generous parental leave policies must be accounted for in budgets — but employers should also consider whether meager leave policies will have a negative financial impact on absenteeism or retention. Employers might also weigh the potential impact of leave policies on employee morale, productivity, and job satisfaction. 

Additionally, employers should consider the competitive landscape in which they operate. If industry peers or other local employers offer more generous parental leave policies, your organization might need to adjust your policies to remain competitive.

Employee Expectations and Needs

Don’t construct parental leave policies in a vacuum. Consider employee needs and expectations to ensure you’re not just meeting legal requirements but are also responding to the workforce’s evolving needs. 

Consider surveying employees about the benefits and compensation needs they feel are most urgent, as well as what they think of your existing benefits. By understanding and addressing their needs, you have a better chance of crafting parental leave policies that are welcomed and truly support employee well-being.

5 Best Practices for Implementing Parental Leave

Getting parental leave right requires following best practices when crafting and implementing organizational policies. Here are five steps you can take to meet employee needs and promote a supportive work environment.

Provide Clear Communication and Documentation

Good communication about parental leave takes many forms. Make sure to provide written documentation of the company’s parental leave policy, including eligibility, leave length, and the employee’s rights and obligations upon return.

Make sure that employees are aware of their ability to take parental leave. This information can be delivered through push methods such as email, workflow management software, informational group sessions, or individual consultations. You can also make sure employees know how to access this policy on demand, whether through a printed document or on the company’s intranet.

Offer Inclusive Leave Options

Create policies that are flexible and tailored to a variety of parental needs. Parental leave doesn’t have to be one size fits all: You might offer a mix of paid and unpaid leave, flexible work arrangements, and reduced work hours, allowing employees to choose the option that best suits their needs and circumstances.

Create a Coverage Plan

HR and managers should work with employees to create a coverage plan before the scheduled start of parental leave. Plan for the transition by outlining the employee’s specific needs during the leave and what job responsibilities will need to be managed and delegated during their absence. Examine how the employee’s absence will affect the rest of the team and their workflows.

Make a plan for training workers who will fill in for the employee going on leave, whether those workers are existing employees or temporarily hired from the outside. This process can include reviewing documentation, creating job aids, and job shadowing. Recognize that the workers filling in might require additional support both before and during ‌parental leave.

Finally, ensure that the departing employee’s work is documented and organized. This will help with the transition and minimize disruptions to the workflow.

Use Technology to Support New Parents

HR professionals can leverage technology, such as workflow management software, to automate and standardize the parental leave process from the initial leave request through the employee’s return to work.

Workflow management software allows HR professionals to create customized workflows for parental leave, ensuring that all necessary steps and approvals are followed. This eliminates the need for manual tracking, reducing the likelihood of errors or oversights. HR professionals can set up automated notifications and reminders to keep employees and managers informed about upcoming leave, return-to-work dates, and required documentation.

HR software can provide a centralized employee experience platform for employees to submit leave requests, access relevant policies and forms, and communicate with HR. This improves transparency and accessibility helps employees navigate the leave process and reduces stress and dissatisfaction.

Evaluate and Update Leave Policies Periodically

Parental leave policies should be evaluated and updated periodically to ensure they’re still effective and in compliance 

Feedback is a powerful component of auditing your leave policies. Start with feedback from employees who have taken parental leave and experienced these policies firsthand. Analyze the impact on their overall job satisfaction and productivity while looking for ways to improve.

Additionally, look at evolving best practices in parental leave to ensure your organization is keeping up with what’s been proven to work in the field.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Parental Leave

If you still have questions about parental leave policies, we have answers. Check out some frequently asked questions about managing parental leave.

Parental Leave vs. Maternity Leave: What’s the Difference?

Parental leave is a form of paid or unpaid time off work for any parent or legal guardian to care for their children. Maternity leave is a form of paid or unpaid time off work specifically for new mothers. Not every employer that offers maternity leave will offer the same (or any) leave to other new parents.

How Does Parental Leave Impact Gender Equality in the Workplace?

Parental leave policies that are equal across genders can create a level playing field for all parents. This promotes gender equality as a cultural value, improves employee morale, and helps employees feel that everyone is treated fairly.

How Can HR Teams Effectively Manage Staff Absences During Extended Leaves?

HR teams can manage staff absences during parental leave by creating an easy-to-use process for requesting and scheduling leave. This plan should include open dialogue, clear processes for delegating the employee’s work during their leave, and support and flexibility upon their return.

What Role Can HR Software Play in Streamlining Parental Leave Management?

HR software can help automate and streamline parental leave management by providing a centralized system to track and manage parental leave. This allows HR teams to quickly and easily access employee leave information and take action. Additionally, such software can provide automated notifications about upcoming leave and provide a paper trail of the leave process for all parties.

Parental Leave Is Good for Everyone

Parental leave is a crucial aspect of supporting working parents and fostering a healthy work-life balance. By embracing progressive parental leave practices, organizations can attract and retain top talent, promote diversity and inclusion, and create a more supportive and family-friendly work environment. Providing this benefit creates lasting benefits for your workforce and your business. 

Learn why what’s great for your people drives business results. Discover how Enboarder Journeys can help you create a more personalized, connected parental leave experience for your employees.