Parental Leave from Employment: The Parent Trap

parental leave

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer got a lot of flak earlier this year when she announced that employees would no longer be able to work from home. But the company’s more recent announcement concerning parental leave stating that all new dads would get 8 weeks of paid paternity leave hasn’t generated nearly as much buzz in the blogosphere. While there’s still a whole lot of attention to the roles of women in the workforce, the roles of dads are far less up for grabs, it seems.

Parental Leave: The Parent Trap

Should your business consider offering paid paternity leave?

According to a study cited by Marketwatch, last year 15 percent of employers did so – up 55 percent from the prior year.

While paid paternity leave might sound like a luxurious perk that only big companies can afford, the reality is it may be a smart move for your business. Why? If you offer paid maternity leave, you can pretty much bet every new mom in your company is going to take advantage of it. But if you offer paid paternity leave, it may not end up costing you a cent. That’s because few dads actually use the privilege.

Another study cited in the Marketwatch article reports that just 12 percent of fathers took advantage of paid parental leave when it was offered. Even dads who did take the leave typically used much of it to work. There are a variety of reasons for this, from cultural norms and peer pressure, to the need many new dads feel to become super-breadwinners, to the simple fact that new dads aren’t breastfeeding 12 times a day while recovering from a major medical procedure.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires small businesses with more than 50 employees to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave with benefits and job protection to qualified workers (those who have been with the company at least 12 months) for the birth or adoption of a child. Your state likely has its own version of the FMLA, which might impose more stringent regulations such as additional unpaid time off or disability payments for new mothers.

Parental Leave Policies

How can you create a parental leave policy that makes sense for your business, as well as for new mothers and fathers?

Start by working with your attorney, HR person and accountant to determine what laws apply in your state and what types of policies will work for your company. I mention the accountant because you need to consider financial issues in the worst-case scenario. If you have a lot of young, married people on staff, and offering paid paternity and maternity leave could leave you with half your staff out on leave while still being paid, you may not be able to offer this perk. On the other hand, if most of your employees are in their 50s, you’re probably safe offering a more generous policy.

If you do choose to go beyond the “bare minimum” with your parental leave, make sure you let employees know it. Parental leave policies vary so much from state to state and company to company that employees may not realize offering, say, two weeks of paid leave is a generous gesture on your part. For example, your employee handbook could state that while the law doesn’t require any paid leave, you believe it’s important to give new parents the best start, so you choose to offer X weeks of paid leave.

Finally, be flexible, yet consistent. Whether you’re dealing with new dads or new moms, a personal approach goes a long way to making employees feel valued during a stressful time of their lives. Work with each employee to figure out how their duties will be handled while they’re on leave, whether that includes some type of work-at-home arrangement, hiring a temp or cross-training another employee to carry the workload.

At the same time, be sure you don’t offer options to one employee that you don’t offer your other staff members, or you could end up with disgruntled (and possibly lawsuit-minded) employees.

Family Photo via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

3 Reactions
  1. If you’re going to offer it, make sure you’re okay with them taking it (and you have a plan for when they do). I think it’s a great idea.

  2. Shawn Hessinger

    Hi Rieva,
    Benefits like these end up being great recruitment tools, but Robert makes a good point. Don’t offer these programs unless you’re fully prepared for employees to take advantage of them. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the low percentage of new dads who are taking advantage of the opportunity when the idea of paternity leave is still relatively new. It seems likely to me that these numbers are likely to rise so…food for thought.

  3. Force benefits is one of the things that is leading us down the European path to stagnant growth and diminishing entrepreneurialism. Rather than dictating parental leave at the lowest common denominator to companies who have no interest in treating their Stakeholders well, we should encourage more companies to simply get rid of vacation and medical leave policies altogether. People should be able to be adults and integrate both their private and business lives, and figure out for themselves how much time they need. The companies with no vacation time and no medical leave, who tell Stakeholders to be adults and figure out for themselves how much time they need, are highly profitable and the most desirable places to work. If we celebrated these companies and stopped mandating to the lowest common denominator, the best Stakeholders would move to great companies and the lousy ones would struggle and have to change or die out.

    I know companies of every age and size, from 4 Stakeholders to 10,000, from 60 years old to startups, all that have no vacation or medical leave. They are flourishing and leading the charge into the future. A meddling government that mandates a specific requirement, as if people are all machines, doesn’t help us get there.

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