4 parental leave ques­tions em­ploy­ers must an­swer

Be­fore chang­ing a pol­icy for new par­ents, ben­e­fits lead­ers need to con­sider what to call the pro­gram and how to pay for it

Employee Benefit News - - COMMENTARY - BY PA­TRI­CIA PURDY

Broad paid parental leave poli­cies have ex­panded sig­nif­i­cantly through­out the United States as part of an over­all move­ment to­ward fam­ily-friendly ben­e­fits. And many ex­pect it to grow even more.

How­ever, what makes for a sound prac­tice can be com­pli­cated to im­ple­ment. Be­fore em­ploy­ers un­der­take any de­sired parental leave en­hance­ment, they must ad­dress four key ques­tions to en­sure suc­cess. 1. What should we name the leave?

The U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion’s En­force­ment Guid­ance on Preg­nancy Dis­crim­i­na­tion and Re­lated Is­sues, which pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on gen­der, has opened the door for law­suits al­leg­ing that cer­tain paid parental leave pro­grams that don’t of­fer equal time off poli­cies for both par­ents are dis­crim­i­na­tory. It says, “em­ploy­ers should care­fully dis­tin­guish be­tween leave re­lated to any phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions im­posed by preg­nancy or child­birth (de­scribed … as preg­nancy-re­lated med­i­cal leave) and leave for pur­poses of bond­ing with a child and/or pro­vid­ing care for a child (de­scribed … as parental leave).” In other words, com­pa­nies must name leave care­fully and specif­i­cally to avoid le­gal dis­putes.

2. How should we pay for and ad­min­is­ter the leave?

There’s a grow­ing un­der­stand­ing among em­ploy­ees, and now em­ploy­ers, that birth moth­ers do not con­sider a rou­tine preg­nancy and child- birth as a “dis­abil­ity.” In re­sponse, some em­ploy­ers are tak­ing a closer look at their dis­abil­ity plans, specif­i­cally their treat­ment of claims for preg­nancy and child­birth. Em­ploy­ers should take the ma­ter­nity ben­e­fit out of the dis­abil­ity plan and make it en­tirely sep­a­rate, or cre­ate a sep­a­rate class for birth moth­ers within the STD plan to pro­vide a richer ben­e­fit to new moth­ers.

3. How do we im­ple­ment leave across dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions? Cur­rently, four states man­date paid parental leave (Cal­i­for­nia, New Jersey, New York [in 2018] and Rhode Is­land), as do many other cities and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. It is an­tic­i­pated that this leg­isla­tive trend will con­tinue, as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has pledged to im­ple­ment some form of na­tional paid fam­ily leave. Thus, em­ploy­ers should com­ply with the laws in the cities and states in which they op­er­ate. Em­ploy­ers should also con­sider the par­ity of their ben­e­fits if they op­er­ate in lo­ca­tions that man­date paid leave as well as lo­ca­tions that do not.

4. How can we cre­ate an in­clu­sive pol­icy?

The move­ment to­ward more fam­ily-friendly work­place poli­cies has raised the in­evitable ques­tion of paid leave to care for other fam­ily mem­bers, not just chil­dren. Many be­lieve that a broader paid leave for spe­cific fam­ily care is a prac­tice whose time is com­ing, and com­pa­nies may look at de­sign­ing a more en­com­pass­ing ap­proach. Ben­e­fits lead­ers should con­sult with in­ter­nal part­ners, in­clud­ing le­gal re­sources, to con­sider whether a parental leave pro­gram or a broader fam­ily leave pro­gram is the most ap­pro­pri­ate ap­proach for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, both cul­tur­ally and fi­nan­cially.

Pa­tri­cia Purdy is a ben­e­fits prac­tice leader and con­sul­tant with more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence. She works for ben­e­fits firm Pa­cific Re­sources.

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