Business Law

Susan Park: Paid leave for new parents can boost morale

Assistant professor of business law at Boise State's College of Business and EconomicsMay 21, 2014 

Susan Park, Boise State.JPG

Susan Park


With Mother's Day just behind us and Father's Day right around the corner, this is a good time to consider the topic of parental benefits at work.

Are employees entitled to any benefits at work on the basis of their parenthood?

The Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, was a significant step in that direction. It gives all covered employees - female and male - up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a child is born or adopted, or because of the employee's illness or the illness of a person the employee cares for.

Generally, employees who have worked for the previous 12 months are covered. They must give 30 days' notice if the leave is foreseeable (such as for the upcoming birth of a child). An employer may require a short medical certification form, completed by a health care provider, which provides enough medical facts to establish a serious health condition to justify the leave.

The FMLA requires only unpaid leave. The U.S. is one of a handful of countries that do not require paid maternity leave. Just 12 percent of workers in the U.S. get paid time off, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Many believe that this has a negative impact on working parents.

Is the U.S. ready for expanded benefits such as those seen in most other countries?

Perhaps. Three states (Rhode Island, California and New Jersey) have begun a paid family leave insurance program. Congress is currently considering a similar bill allowing a new payroll contribution for at least partial paid time off.

At least three cities have also enacted broader leave policies. The San Francisco City Council recently passed an ordinance that allows employees who work within the city to request flexible work schedules or improved predictability in scheduling to accommodate caregiving responsibilities. Businesses may decline the request if it creates an "undue hardship," but such denial must be justified in writing.

New York City recently enacted an Earned Sick Time Act, which obligates most employers in the city to provide employees with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. The Newark, N.J., City Council approved a similar measure in January.

Despite these developments, most states and cities do not provide for more leave or benefits than the FMLA requires. However, some larger corporations have extended maternity leave to employees. Google, for instance, provides new mothers with 18 to 22 weeks of paid leave. Facebook gives new mothers and fathers four months of paid leave.

What is your company policy regarding working parents? Does your business provide paid parental leave?

Certainly, large companies might be better able to afford generous time-off policies than smaller companies. Extra maternity leave, for either parent, also requires advance planning to be sure those positions are staffed during the employee's absence.

On the positive side, a progressive parental leave policy can do wonders for employee morale and motivation. It can also be a great recruitment tool.

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