When it comes to developing a paid parental leave program, there's no option that works for every employer. Organization size, industry, workforce population and average age of employees all affect what might be affordable and appropriate for a given company. So HR leaders and benefits managers are getting creative.
Companies shared their paid parental leave models during a panel discussion at the National Business Group on Health's recent fall conference in Washington, D.C.
B. Braun Medical Inc., a medical device manufacturer with global headquarters in Melsungen, Germany, wanted to align benefits for its 5,000 U.S. employees more closely with benefits that the company offers in Europe, "where paid parental leave is common," said Myrna Rivera, the firm's Bethlehem, Pa.-based vice president for U.S. corporate benefits and HR administration.
"Nearly every European Union member provides at least 14 weeks of job-guaranteed paid maternity leave, with employees receiving at least two-thirds of their regular wages," she noted.
To provide a similar package for its U.S. workers, B. Braun Medical made paid leave available, effective Jan. 1, 2016, for birth, adoption or parenthood by surrogacy. The details include:
66 percent of weekly earnings for four weeks (single birth) or six weeks (multiple birth) for new parents regardless of gender.
Full-time employees (either parent) are eligible after six months of employment.
If both parents are B. Braun Medical employees, they can take leave at the same time or separately.
Leave cannot be taken intermittently and must be taken within six months of birth or adoption, to ease administration.
Employees can use available paid time off, including vacation, to supplement the benefit but are not required to do so.
"We've had employees that have asked if they can negotiate these benefits to meet their personal circumstance, but we felt strongly that we cannot" without opening the door to favoring some employees over others. She advised making that a clear policy from the start, to avoid confusion.
The main impetus for creating a paid parental leave program for Coca-Cola's North American operations was a request by Coca-Cola's Millennial employees group, "representing 35 percent of our employee population and expected to go up to 55 percent by 2020," said Kelly Keith, who is responsible for benefit programs covering Coca-Cola's more than 70,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada.
The company also wanted to adjust its benefits strategy to help women advance to leadership positions and to address gender pay gaps, she noted.
"Women-only parental leave had the unintended consequence of hurting women's career advancement and deepening the gender gap, since women were seen as 'opting out' of the workforce," Keith explained. "Offering parental leave benefits to fathers helps shift the responsibility of childrearing from female employees to an equal balance between moms and dads," an issue recently highlighted in a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Likewise, offering equal parental leave benefits to dads, to moms who give birth and to parents who adopt or use surrogates "sends a clear message that we value all families," Keith said.
As of January 2017, Coca-Cola's parental leave benefits include:
Six weeks of paid company leave for all new parents, which runs concurrently with unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
In addition, six weeks (routine birth) or seven weeks (C-section) of paid short-term disability for birth mothers, which runs consecutively with parent leave.
As a result, birth mothers receive at least 12 weeks of paid leave, while fathers receive 6 weeks paid leave, as do adoptive parents and same-sex partners.
Full-time employees are eligible for Coca-Cola's parental leave benefits after 90 days of employment.
Leave may be taken all at once or in two separate blocks of time, but must be taken within 12 months of birth or adoption. Leave may not be taken prior to birth or adoption.
Available vacation can be used to supplement the benefit but there is no requirement to do so.
A word to the wise: "Don't announce the policy in advance, as it's likely to anger employees about to have children before the policy takes effect," Keith said. "My advice is to roll it out with other annual enrollment changes, which we generally communicate in the beginning of October. We would have had only three months of some employees being upset, as opposed to eight months."
During the panel discussion's Q&A, an audience member remarked that his company had learned the same lesson, and he advised making the announcement the night before the program takes effect.
A Social Media Trendsetter
Amber Pilgrim, program manager for time away at Facebook in Menlo Park, Calif., directs benefits for nearly 15,000 employees in 34 countries. She described Facebook's benefits branding as "We take care of you and the people who matter to you while you're connecting the world."
"We wanted to make sure that fathers and same-sex partners had the same opportunity to bond with the child as mothers do," Pilgrim said.
Facebook's paid leave policy, which took effect in the U.S. in January 2012 and was expanded globally in January 2016, includes these details:
100 percent of weekly earnings for four months (87 weekdays) following birth or adoption.
Available to full-time employees who work 20 hours or more per week, available as of date of employment.
Leave can be taken intermittently but must be taken within one year of birth.
If both parents are employed by Facebook, leave can be taken at the same time or separately.
Other parental benefits Facebook offers include:
A new child benefit (or "baby cash") of $4,000 once the child is born, or $7,000 for a multiple birth (includes adoption).
Back-up child care services and care-provider search service.
New parents' workshop sessions and employee groups.
Among the lessons learned, Pilgrim noted, was that allowing intermittent time off by the day is difficult to administer. "If you have someone—usually it's a nonbirth parent—who is taking every Monday and Friday off for 43 weeks, that's really tough on a team versus taking an allotted amount of time. Most of the dads take parental leave only minimally, or they may take one month and the rest of the time is intermittent. And we're finding that's difficult for small groups to handle."
She added, "We would probably do it differently if designing the program today. And if we change the policy, we'll likely require a one-week minimum" for any leave. To address the problem now, Facebook is creating a pool of employees who can cover for certain technical jobs on a fill-in basis.
Pilgrim also recommended companies "provide help for those returning to work using a cost-effective, scalable approach," such as by using employee self-help groups to offer advice and support.
Pilgrim said Facebook is considering offering leave for foster parents. "We have a large population at Facebook involved with providing foster care so we're trying to think how we can cover it," she explained. "Four months might not be practical because many foster parents have multiple foster kids during the year. We're working on a policy that will be tailored specifically for foster care."
An employee survey found that the time-away program was among the highest scoring benefits at Facebook. However, "some employees said we need to stop thinking about only the young families and asked why we weren't doing more to address the needs of families with school-age children or kids going off to college [who] need financial aid, or about those who are taking care of an elderly parent, for example. So we're going to start focusing more on those needs, to ensure that we're not over-tilting on those young families."
Paid Parental Leave Generates ‘Buzz’
According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2016 Employee Benefits survey report, 26 percent of employers offer paid maternity leave beyond what's covered by short-term disability or state law, 21 percent offer paid paternity leave and 20 percent offer paid adoption leave.
And yet the media is buzzing with accounts of employers introducing generous paid parental leave programs, suggesting that providing this benefit is increasingly viewed as being necessary to maintain a competitive rewards program. Indeed, in a recent survey by Bright Horizons, a child-care benefits provider, 49 percent of new parents said they have taken a job for less money at a family-friendly employer.
A few recent high-profile announcements are highlighted below.
Sallie Mae, the personal finance and education-loan firm, will offer 12 weeks of leave at full pay for employees who are new or adoptive parents. The benefit covers babies born by the biological mother or a surrogate, and adopted children age 5 or younger. For a primary caregiver—the person with responsibility for caring for the child a majority of the time immediately following the child's birth or adoption—the new benefit is 12 weeks of paid leave; the benefit for the secondary caregiver is four weeks of paid leave.
Hilton Worldwide's paid parental leave policies now cover hourly and salaried employees with at least one year of service at Hilton's owned and managed properties and corporate offices. New parents—including fathers and adoptive parents—receive two weeks of fully paid parental leave; new mothers who give birth receive an additional eight weeks of maternity leave for a total of 10 weeks of fully paid leave. Next year, Hilton's adoption assistance benefits will reimburse adoption expenses up to $10,000 per child for U.S.-based hourly and salaried full-time employees with at least one year of service.
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