The birth of a baby is one of the most anticipated and joyful events in life. For months in advance, we plan and prepare in many ways. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond.
Since work is a significant part of life for many parents and parents-to-be, plans must be made for a smooth transition during this time. A parental leave policy provides a roadmap to help your employees navigate through this life-changing time.
In this post, we will discuss:
- Federal and state laws that cover pregnancy and parental leave
- Policies you may wish to consider for your employee handbook
- Parental leave from an employee’s perspective – from our team member who recently had a baby!
Federal and State Laws for Parental Leave
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law in the United States. Employers with 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, including the birth or adoption of a child.
To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months. FMLA allows for the continuation of employer-provided health insurance during the leave period.
Some states and cities have additional parental leave laws that provide more generous benefits than the FMLA. Since most of our clients operate in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, we will discuss those states next. If you operate in a different state, be sure to check into the parental leave laws specific to your state, or contact us to help!
Minnesota expanded on the FMLA with the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) enacted in 2014, extending benefits to more working parents. Employers with 21 or more employees must offer parental leave. Employees who have worked at the company at least 12 months, and have worked at least half time during the past 12 months, are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during or following pregnancy.
With the passing of additional legislation in 2021, Minnesota requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” This may include, but is not limited to, a less strenuous/hazardous position, frequent restroom breaks, and limits on heavy lifting.
North and South Dakota Laws
North Dakota has no additional provisions for parental leave besides FMLA, which applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees.
South Dakota provides paid family leave (PFL) to eligible state employees only, but non-government businesses with 50 or more employees follow FMLA laws.
Policies to Consider for your Employee Handbook
When you have a written policy in your employee handbook, you are creating a supportive workplace culture and clarifying expectations for employees who may be considering starting or expanding their families.
If you have 50 or more employees, you must follow FMLA requirements. However, you are welcome to expand on what is offered under FMLA. If you have under 50 or under 21 employees (depending on which state you operate in, as we discussed above), you are not legally required to provide parental leave for your employees. Even so, you may decide that there are certain benefits you’d like to extend to your employees. Having a more robust parental leave policy than the minimum standard required by FMLA may help to improve employee retention and employee engagement.
Anyone who has become a parent, or has added additional children to the family, knows that it’s a time of recovery from childbirth, sleep deprivation, adaptation to new routines, and learning to care for and bond with a new little life. It’s no surprise that new parents may struggle to be 100% present at work. They may feel distracted, conflicted, or torn between priorities. According to the American Psychological Association, the experience one has transitioning to parenthood affects a person’s mental and physical health into midlife and beyond!
Offering parental leave benefits is a demonstration of goodwill towards your employees. In essence, you believe that this is an investment in your employees’ financial and emotional well-being, and thus an investment in the long-term health of your company. After all, the benefits you offer are a reflection of what you value.
Who is Eligible
You may wish to consider the following:
- Will you offer parental leave only to employees who are pregnant? Or also to employees whose spouse/partner is expecting a baby?
- Will you offer the same benefits to someone who is adopting a baby or becoming a parent to a child born through surrogacy, as you will to someone who is pregnant?
- How long should the employee have been employed with the company prior to getting leave? Would it be offered to only full-time employees, or to part-time ones, as well?
Paid or Unpaid
Decide whether all or part of an employees’ leave will be paid or not. You may offer paid leave at 100% or any percentage of their usual paycheck.
Amount, Time Frame and Duration
Items to consider:
- How many weeks of leave will you offer?
- In what time frame following the birth or adoption of a child does the leave need to be taken?
- Must the leave be taken in one continuous period during the predetermined time frame?
You may want employees to provide notice ahead of time for the requested leave – 60 days, for instance. This allows time to transition tasks to other employees before the employee goes on leave. You may include “or as much notice as practical if the leave is not foreseeable” for occurrences such as accidents, surgery/treatments, etc.
Preparing for Parental Leave
Delaney Burchill, one of our team members who recently had a baby, shares some helpful insights from her own experience of preparing for maternity leave.
1. Tell your boss/team leader as soon as possible.
I was very transparent and shared with Megan that I was pregnant soon after I found out. You may not be comfortable sharing that early, but at least let your boss know as soon as you make the news public.
If there are any special circumstances with your pregnancy, let your employer know in case you need more time off for appointments or need specific accommodations. Also, request how much time you’d ideally like to take off after the baby’s born, so that you and your boss can start discussing who will cover your tasks.
2. Lists are your friend!
Make a list of all the tasks you currently have on your plate. Then, schedule a meeting with your boss to make a game plan for who will be taking them over. That way, you know that you’ve covered your bases and nothing falls through the cracks!
Your tasks may be split among your coworkers, or it may be necessary for another employee to be hired to provide coverage during your leave.
3. Schedule time for training.
Once it’s been determined who will be covering your tasks, schedule time to train with them early on, rather than waiting until the last minute. Just as it may be overwhelming for you to give up the daily tasks that you work so hard on, it can be equally as daunting for your coworkers to take them all over. Transitioning these tasks slowly before you take your leave allows them to ease into the workflow. Since you are still there as backup to answer their questions, they can build confidence as they do your tasks.
It is difficult to transfer the knowledge and all the nuances of your job in just one training session. Breaking it up into several parts and spacing it out will make it more manageable for you to carve out time from your workload to train, and make it less stressful for your coworkers to learn!
4. Create Trainuals.
When it comes to training those who are covering for you while you are on maternity leave, I would recommend making a Trainual (online training manual) for everything that you currently do. Training will be less time-consuming, and your coworkers have your instructions to refer back to when you are gone!
5. Don’t procrastinate on your work!
Babies have an only 5% chance of actually being born on their “due date”, so there’s a high probability of them coming either before or after that time. Do your most important work as soon as possible, so that you can take your leave with peace of mind. That way, your coworkers don’t need to be worrying if there are any tasks they should be finishing for you.
I am so thankful for how I have been treated at MBS leading up to my maternity leave! Everyone has been so positive and excited for the upcoming baby, and has really made me feel valued as a person, rather than just an employee. My coworkers have been helpful and supportive with helping me plan ahead for my leave. Flex-time makes it possible to get to my frequent appointments without taking time off. I 10/10 would recommend working for a company that encourages you to take the time you need to enjoy some of life’s biggest moments!” – Delaney Burchill
We hope this information is helpful and thought-provoking when considering what parental leave benefits to offer to your employees. You may decide to draft your company’s first parental leave policy. Or maybe you’ll revise or expand upon what’s already in place.
As always, if you have any questions, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help!