The National Partnership for Women and Families recently released a report entitled, “Expecting_Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents” detailing US state and federal laws regarding new families and their ability to take time off from work. Unfortunately the US continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to offering these kinds of benefits. As HR pros we are in the unique position to lobby for these benefits in our own workplaces. Why not pave the way for the rest of the US when it comes to offering paid leave for new parents? Not only will you be rewarded in loyalty, but retention, engagement and the overall atmosphere will improve if you attempt to foster an inclusive and accommodating environment for new families.
According to the report, the US is the only “highly competitive” country in the world to not offer paid leave for new parents. 178 countries other than US, offer mandated paid leave following, or related to childbirth and 54 guarantee paid paternal leave for new dads. Even more disheartening is the decline in employers who offer paid leave for new moms and dads. In 1998, a small but promising 27% of employers offered paid leave for new parents, in 2012 only 9% of employers offer this crucial benefit. It seems that during the recession and following cut-backs, maternity leave was hit very hard.
As difficult and frustrating as it can be to try and change government policy, as an HR pro, there are things you can do to improve these dire statistics on a small level. The report graded states according to the benefits they offered workers, and while federal and state guidelines may not be applicable to every individual workplace, there are changes you can attempt to make, that will improve the quality of the benefits your workplace offers.
- Paid/unpaid maternity leave- Paid maternity leave may not be financially possible for some companies to offer, but if it is, it should be provided. Pregnancy is an unavoidable, and amazing part of life, and to simply expect mothers to bounce back, and get right to work is unreasonable. At least offering unpaid leave removes the stigma new mothers and fathers feel when they take time off work to care for a new child.
- Paid/unpaid sick leave- By offering sick leave, whether paid or unpaid, you give expecting mothers the option to use this accrued time following the birth of a child.
- Flexible sick leave- Whether being utilized to recuperate after birth, to care for a newborn, a sick child or a sick parent or spouse, sick leave should be allowed to be applied as the employee sees fit, as long as it is health related.
- Breaks and space for pumping mothers (beyond federal mandate)-New mothers should be provided with time and space to pump breast-milk. As an employer you should go above and beyond the federal mandate to accommodate these new moms, and their assorted needs. The Breastfeeding Coalition came up with a Business Case for Breastfeeding, which found the ROI for a standard lactation program to be $2 for every $1 invested. For a comprehensive lactation program, the ROI was $3 for every $1 spent.
It’s your job as an HR pro to lobby for the needs of your workers, as well as the companies. This is a benefit worth fighting for. The arrival of a new child shouldn’t mean parents, have to fear losing their job if they want time off to care for it. With the US steadily behind the rest of the world when it comes to education, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that this seemingly pro-industry, anti-family stance on benefits has a farther reach than disgruntled new parents. An investment in new parents and their child, is an investment in the future. If you have any ability to change these policies within your workplace, you should, because you’ll be making positive changes that can set the example of what HR departments, and the government, are supposed to do to help protect workers.