Paid Family Leave a Standard Benefit?

Both left and right have suggested concepts for paid family leave. This is an outcome of the fact that most Americans support some form of federally mandated family-leave law.

It may be surprising for business owners and managers to hear that the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t offer guaranteed time off for parents and other caregivers.

But there is a shift taking place. New York passed a generous state-backed family program in 2016. It allows for 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents. It also allows for time off for anyone who needs to care for a family member with a serious medical condition.

Minnesota, Rhode Island, & California all have established family-leave policies.

Big companies are joining the fray. From Cambell’s to American Express they are introducing or expanding their paid-leave programs. These include offering more time off and allowing for more ways to qualify for coverage.

While the trend is increasing, universal mandatory family leave is a way’s off. Congress is not unified on what should be included in a program or whether one should exist at all…

Yet younger workers are particularly interested in family leave options. Employers are taking notice. Employers are realizing this is a significant way to compete and offer unique benefits.

One challenge facing businesses is that benefit plans are often built around older concepts of family care. These assume that women will take on most of the child care duties early on. Yet fathers have become much more involved.

One concern is whether the company’s culture is fully supportive of the paid leave options they offer. Some paid leave laws don’t include job protection. Employees feel pressured to return to work earlier than they otherwise would prefer because their career depends on it.

One progressive program is offered by Earnst& Young which has more than 230,000 employees world-wide. It is expanding parental leave to cover 16 weeks for new mothers & fathers. This includes time for birth, of course. But it also includes surrogacy, adoption, or legal guardianship as well. Their program is robust and considered to be a trendsetter. The point? To be the most attractive potential employer.

Small companies are not as disadvantaged as you might imagine. Often times a small business can be more flexible with their workforce vs. larger companies. Small companies can also be more responsive.

Small Business Options and Challenges

Small businesses tend to be lean operations. Having a team member leave is challenging. Offering paid time off for 16 weeks at a time may feel impossible.

Yet the key is in finding flexible options that can be appealing to workers while being affordable for the employer. This could include flex time as well as working from home.

Why is it important to be flexible? Because the median cost of replacing a worker is roughly 21% of their annual salary. With that in mind, finding flexible leave options becomes more affordable.

If the employer works with employees to plan, workloads can often be divided. Likewise projects can be scheduled around an individual’s absence. By carefully evaluating options, a small business can often find a path that can absorb the impact of leave.

If you are thinking about a flexible leave program, the best first action is to talk with your benefits adviser who can help you explore your options.

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