Mothers and fathers have been navigating maternity and paternity leave policies for decades. Unfortunately, the U.S. has one of the least impressive frameworks for this time off in place. But with knowledge and planning, you can make this time work for you and your employees.

You as an employer are legally mandated to offer very little in the way of maternity and paternity leave. The requirements fall under the Family Medical Leave Act. Beyond this narrow scope of mandatory unpaid leave, you can offer employees more if they use a combination of paid parental leave benefits and vacation time, sick leave, and short-term disability as add-ons.

You will probably want your human resources representative to go over leave options with your employees. HR can explain how much time is allotted, so workers can get a clearer picture of how many weeks they can spend at home and think about how the leave will affect household finances.

A terrific suggestion is to have employees talk with co-workers who’ve taken leave before. HR can give the technical aspects, but a parent who’s actually put the company’s policies into practice may offer employees unique insights.

Employees obviously would love to spend those precious first months with their new arrival and get paid to boot, but only 39 percent of full-time American workers have access to family leave. A few states have taken the initiative to mandate paid family leave, but in most cases, workers generally rely on their employers to provide any paid maternity and paternity leave.

Expectant parents and those waiting to adopt can often bank on their sick leave and vacation time to prepare for the new baby. Employer policies regarding this use of paid leave vary. New mothers should be able to use sick time for the final weeks of pregnancy and the days after giving birth because they may be physically incapable of working. Some firms are flexible in the use of sick leave, allowing it throughout the first months of the baby’s life and after adoption. Vacation time is easier to access.

Babies get sick, but workers may not want to exhaust sick leave, so they can save some for inevitable doctor visits and future illnesses.

An estimated 40 percent of employees have access to short-term disability insurance. This is largely limited to the date of delivery through the six weeks after, when mom is considered disabled due to a medical condition. High-risk pregnancies and complications after delivery can increase the time workers are eligible for these benefits.

Know the FMLA Details

The Family Medical Leave Act requires some employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees with serious health conditions or those welcoming a new child through birth or adoption. Workers don’t have to worry about losing their job because of time away.

Your workers are eligible for coverage and protection under FMLA if they meet the following requirements:

  • Have worked for the company for at least one year and have put in 1,250 hours during that 12-month period.
  • Work for a company with 50 or more employees.
  • Live within a 75-mile radius of their workplace.

These are not the only rules, however, and it pays for employers to familiarize themselves with the details, as outlined by the Department of Labor.

Finally, although parental leave is traditionally thought of as something for mothers, fathers may want to use vacation time and sick leave right after the child’s birth — or even short-term disability, especially if caring for a spouse or a partner’s recovery. The FMLA applies to men and women. In addition, if you offer maternity benefits to women above and beyond what the FMLA requires, you will likely have to offer equivalent paternity benefits as well. Also note that many employers allow leave for new adoptions too, and this may make sense for your business.

© 2019

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