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3 Ways to Support Workers Who Are Starting Families

Fertility and related benefits show which employers are family-friendly

Three people sitting at a table talking to a doctor.

Offering benefits that support employees as they create and care for their families is a way for employers to set themselves apart from their competitors as they vie for talent.

The percentage of U.S. employers offering some type of fertility benefit increased to 31 percent in 2018 from 24 percent in 2016, according to 677 HR and benefits professionals surveyed by the nonprofit International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, an association of benefit plan sponsors. The employers polled most commonly covered the following fertility benefits:

  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments (23 percent).
  • Fertility medications (18 percent).
  • Genetic testing to determine infertility issues (15 percent).
  • Non-IVF fertility treatments (13 percent).
  • Visits with counselors (9 percent).
  • Egg harvesting or freezing services (7 percent).

Smaller employers are less likely to provide fertility benefits, but as with large employers, the numbers that do are increasing. Of employers with 50 or fewer employees, 10 percent offered some sort of fertility benefit, up from 4 percent in 2016.

Pillars of Support

LinkedIn began developing its parental support using focus groups to identify the challenges employees face at different stages of parenting, from starting a family to sending children to college. This effort resulted in a suite of benefits that includes financial aid to cover fertility treatments and help managing the challenges of nursing an infant after returning to work.

"Every program we offer must serve a purpose," said LinkedIn's chief people officer, Nina McQueen, in Sunnyvale, Calif. Sometimes that purpose is to manage a business issue. At other times, "it is the right thing to do."

Employers that want to develop their own programs to help employees who are currently parents or who want and plan to be parents in the future can focus on three pillars of support.

1. Financial support.

Having children is expensive—that's not news. Now more employers are offering direct financial assistance to help with these costs. In some cases, this includes funds to help with fertility treatments and the costs of adoption or surrogacy.

Liberty Mutual Insurance raised the lifetime maximum on its fertility benefits from $30,000 to $45,000 and includes same-sex couples in its coverage. The company also covers up to $20,000 for eligible surrogacy expenses and provides an adoption benefit of up to $20,000, according to Amy O'Neill, the company's vice president and director of health and well-being strategy.

Subsidizing child care costs is another important way employers can support employees who are parents. LinkedIn covers up to $2,000 per year in child care expenses and provides up to 10 days of backup child care for its employees.

2. Time off.

Time off, whether paid or unpaid, is a critically important benefit for parents. Liberty Mutual increased its paid parental leave from two weeks to eight weeks following the birth or adoption of a child, and birth mothers are eligible for 100 percent of their salary during eight weeks of disability leave.

LinkedIn allows employees to use different types of paid leave depending on their situation and gradually return to work. For example, the company allows birth mothers to take up to six months of paid leave, combining disability and paid parental leave. Fathers and adopting mothers are eligible for 12 weeks of paid parental leave during the first year after the birth or adoption of a child.

All parents taking parental leave also have the option of returning to work gradually by working part time for up to four weeks. "This gives them time to adjust to a new schedule and perhaps a new child care provider," said McQueen.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: How to Design an Employee Benefits Program]

3. Information and resources.

Employers can provide various types of support for working parents, including information, coaching resources and peer support. Law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg in Chicago offers a concierge service to support employees who are exploring and undergoing fertility treatment. "The service helps employees navigate the fertility-treatment process," said Sonia Menon, the firm's chief operating officer. "It provides information on likely costs, options for paying those costs, what is covered by insurance and what their options are for fertility treatment."

The concierge service allows the firm, a smaller employer, to provide a benefit that employees have asked for at a predetermined cost. The concierge service charges a flat monthly fee per employee that is easy to budget.

Parents who move in and out of the workforce following the birth of a child face unique challenges as they adjust and balance their work and parenting responsibilities. LinkedIn started a pilot program to provide employees with career and parent coaching before and after their leave and sponsors a support group for parents working for the company. For employees preparing to take leave, Liberty Mutual developed a guide that summarizes everything the company provides to support employees who are parents.

Listening to Employees

These are just a few programs employers can offer to support new parents and those trying to become parents. Before choosing a program, it is important to ask employees what will be most valuable to them, using surveys, focus groups and informal feedback.

Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.

Related SHRM Articles:

Is It Time to Rethink Fertility Benefits?SHRM Online, April 2018

Fertility Services Distinguish Employers as Family Friendly, SHRM Online, August 2016


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