Q&A: What to consider when creating a parental leave policy

Lora Patterson, HR Advisor at Zenefits
Oct 5, 2021

How are you handling parental leave? In the past, employers often relied on state or federal benefits when offering parental leave to employees. Now, many industries are going above and beyond. On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Senior HR Advisor Lora Patterson breaks down the ways you can utilize state and federal benefits, and how […]

How are you handling parental leave? In the past, employers often relied on state or federal benefits when offering parental leave to employees. Now, many industries are going above and beyond. On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Senior HR Advisor Lora Patterson breaks down the ways you can utilize state and federal benefits, and how you might consider using them to bolster your own benefits for your employees.

After you listen:

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On this episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [01:22] The state and federal leave benefits available to new parents
  • [03:12] What to consider if you have employees in different states
  • [04:20] Who should be eligible?
  • [05:42] How are you going to sustain operations while employees are on leave?
  • [08:10] Can employees use PTO while on parental leave?
  • [09:41] How should employees request leave?

POPS Star Bio

Lora Patterson is a Senior People Ops Advisor at Zenefits, where she advises clients on a broad range of human resources issues including employment laws and regulations, management practices, policies and procedures, and best practices regarding people management, development, and engagement. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


Lora: What should employers consider when creating a parental leave policy?

Didi: Welcome to pops the show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world Havel by answering one question at a time

Lora: today. 

Didi: To help us answer your question. Here’s Laura Patterson, senior HR advisor. That’s. 

Lora: In the past employers have typically relied on state or even federal leave benefits when it comes to offering parental leave to their employees. However, something I’ve seen in the last couple of years is certain industries.

Like the tech industry will go above and beyond when it comes to providing paid leave benefits for both parents. Right now, it would be a really good idea for employers, especially those experiencing a lot of turnover. To look into creating their own leaf policies, like a parental leave policy. This will not only help benefit their employees, but they can use this as a way to recruit and retain employees.

Before I jump into, you know, the step-by-step instructions on how to create a policy, I do want to touch on state and federal leave programs and how these may affect your policy. So on the federal level, we have the family and medical leave act also known as FMLA. So this act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protected.

For several different reasons, but when it comes to parents, they can take it for the birth of his son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care. Now employees are eligible for this leave. If they meet a couple of requirements. So they have to work for covered employer.

They need to work with the employer for at least 12 months. And then they have to at least work 1,250 hours with that employer during the 12 month period immediately proceeding. The last part of it is they have to work at location when they’re where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius.

So that’s FMLA in a nutshell, the next thing to consider is if there are any state leave or wage replacement programs that your employees may qualify to receive. So several states have already implemented these types of benefits and a lot more or looking to do so in the near future. So it’s really important for employers to understand.

The laws that apply in every state that their employees perform work. Once you understand what may apply, your company will need to determine what benefits you may want to offer in addition to those state or federal benefits, and then how those benefits interact. So several state benefits are triggered depending on maybe an employee’s disability due to pregnancy or a medical issue due to pregnancy, or maybe just the birth of their child.

So employers need to understand that. All of these different situations, trigger different benefits and can change how those benefits work together. So once you understand that you kind of get this full picture of how long employees will be out on leave and how your company lead is going to play into this.

Another thing to consider is if you have employees in several states, those states may or may not have different benefits that come into play. Here’s just a basic example that I see. I’ll see a company that maybe they’re they’re based in California, they have employees in California, but they also have employees in other states like Arizona and Utah.

So while they’re California, employees can expect all of these different benefits from their state, Arizona and Utah are only going to rely on F Malai or company benefits if offered. So company would either want to have a policy that applies to every. But maybe those benefits run alongside California benefits.

So California employees don’t get even more leave or I’ve seen companies will mimic one state’s laws and then apply it to everyone. So in this scenario, they could mimic what California is offering and offer that to the other states, no matter what they decide, they just want to set really clear expectations around what employees can do.

Let’s jump into actually creating your policy because there’s a lot of things to consider. The first thing to consider is who is going to be eligible for this sleeve. Are you going to make it so only full-time employees get it, or does an employee have to be with the company for a certain amount of time before they’re eligible?

Whatever those requirements are. I would outline them, make sure your employees understand. The next part is your reason for leave criteria. So you’re going to want to specify the reason an employee can qualify for leave. The next thing to consider is probably the most important part of this, and it’s going to be the duration of the leave.

So how much leave are you actually going to offer? Now? I often have clients reaching out, just wondering, you know, what do we need to do to be competitive? What’s the norm when it comes to offering. And my general response is the duration is going to be up to the company and what they can sustain. So you want to basically create a policy that all employees can enjoy, that the company can sustain for many years moving forward.

And that could be, you know, putting something in place that maybe is a little bit less and then increasing it as the years ago. I think the worst thing a company could do is say, we’re giving, you know, five months of leave and then a year into it. And we’re like, oh no, no, we can’t do five months. We’re scaling that back.

You just really want to be consistent. So employees really understand what to expect. Another thing to think about is how the employer is going to sustain this leave. So if you do offer a lot of leave to your employees, are you going to hire temp employees to cover while they’re out? Or are you going to.

Have other employees divvy up their, their tasks. So they handled the tasks while that employee is out. Whatever you decide, it’s up to you just make it clear to your employees. Now, another thing to think about is does the leave need to be taken within a certain period of time from the event? So with FMLA, they state that all leave has to be taken within one year of the birth or placement of the child.

Another thing does, is it, lets employees know that they can use their 12 weeks at one time or break it up throughout the year. And that’s a decision you have to make about your leave. Are you going to make employees use it all at once or can they use it as they need throughout that year? The next part to really think about is what portion of this lead is going to be.

So as an employer, you’re not required to pay them for leave. If there’s no state benefit telling you, you need to. So it’s really up to you to decide, are we going to offer paid leave? Is it all going to be unpaid or will a portion of it be paid? I’ve seen this done a couple of ways. I’ve seen companies where they’ll pay, you know, maybe half of the leave or they’ll pay a percentage of the leave.

Like while you’re out, we’ll pay 50% of your salary. So that’s something to decide on. Another thing to look into is short-term disability programs. If your company has a short-term disability policy, you want to check with that policy and see if, having a child being born is a reason to take short-term disability.

If it is let your employees know so they can apply for those benefits. On the state side, there are state disability insurance benefits that employees can apply for. I know states like California and New York have that available. You just want to let employees know the process they need to go through to get that benefit.

I’ve also seen companies based how much leave our paid leave. They give on how much disability, insurance and employees getting. For example, if an employee is getting 55% of their salary paid through a disability program, that company will supplement their leave up to a hundred percent. So they get a hundred percent of wage replacement during.

The next part to think of when it comes to paid leave, is employees PTL. So are employees allowed to use their PTO during their leave? You want to let them know this is especially going to come into play. If you have an unlimited policy, because you want to, to kind of set that rule of yeah. You know what you can use all of your limited leave during your parental.

Or you can say employees can only use X amount of unlimited leave during parental leave. And it’s just nice to be really clear with that. The next thing to think about is insurance benefits. Some federal and state programs require you to keep insurance going. One of these that you may not expect because it’s not a leave benefit is the affordable care act.

If you’re subject to the affordable care act. And your employee is in a stability period. You have to maintain insurance throughout that stability period, regardless of their lead status. So keep that in mind. Um, if none of those rules apply and it’s just up to your company, you want to let employees know what to expect with their benefits.

If their benefits do continue, you then want to establish how employees can pay for their benefits while they’re out on leave. And that could be a catch-up program when they return from their leave, or maybe having them pay during that. Whatever you decide. I think it’s really helpful to outline that that repayment program or, or payment program, and then have both parties signed so they understand, you know, what to expect.

Now, the next part I want to focus on is just the administrative side of things. So if an employee needs leave, how do they request it? Do they have to submit a form or is it more. Who do they need to talk to? Who do they submit? You know, any documentation that may be required. Another part of this is how far in advance does an employee need to request the leave on the state and federal.

I typically see 30 days or as soon as possible. So you can do something similar to that. Another part of this is how do employees communicate with the company while they’re out on leave? So if an employee wants to, let’s say extend their leave because something has come. Whether it’s medical or just a personal issue, or maybe they want to come back earlier, who do they need to talk to?

What does that line of communication look like? Now? The last thing I want you to think about it really doesn’t have anything to do with the leaf itself, but it does deal with what employees can expect returning to work. And that is whether or not employers will allow for a flexible schedule when employees come from.

Not all companies can do it, but if you can, I think it would be really nice to allow employees maybe a little bit more flexibility with their schedule and then letting employees know, first of all, what does that even look like? Is that remote work is that, you know, working four days out of five. And if you do offer that benefit, how long is it going to last?

There are many things to consider when creating these policies, but I believe this is something that companies should be considering as it is a benefit in. Not only need, but really look for when deciding on a new job.

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected]


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