Your Money Matters: Maternity/paternity leave information

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Chris Duchesne

Information from Chris:

What is the status of paternity leave in America and what are the issues surrounding it?
Conceptually, I believe everyone can agree that it is important for all parents to be involved in the lives of their children, and this involvement begins at birth. However, even though paternity leave is becoming an available option – in fact, fifteen percent of U.S. companies today provide some form of paid leave for new fathers, according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management study – many men are still reluctant to make use of it. The Boston College Center for Work & Family found that with the birth of a child, 75 percent of fathers took off a week or less, and 16 percent took no time off at all. Most often, those who do not take the time off are concerned that they will be viewed by their colleagues and manager as less serious, or less invested in their work and their career (this issue recently received some media attention when a major league ballplayer was chided for missing a game to attend the birth of his child). But, there is good news as a new generation of fathers is focused on playing a more active role in parenting, and employers are starting to take notice and provide more support to these new dads.

How and when do you begin the conversation with your employer about taking maternity or paternity leave?
When it comes to speaking with your company about maternity or paternity leave, early communication is key to building trust and ensuring a smooth transition. It is important to be proactive and transparent. Take it upon yourself to learn your company’s policies to understand what you should expect. Be sure to consider both your needs and those of your team and company. Companies and HR teams should recognize that parental leave is a win-win.  It’s good for employees and their families, and good for employers.

What should you be sure to ask for and address and what can you typically expect to receive?
FMLA provides a level of legal protection for most employees looking to take leave. Your company will have its own policies about how you may be able to use paid leave, vacation and short-term disability. Many people are surprised by the level of support they receive from their managers and colleagues. Employers should also consider that while this leave is an important part of their benefits programs, families need a broad range of support.  Parental leave should be part of a comprehensive set of family services employers deliver to their workforce.

What can companies do to help employees during leave and to re-enter the workforce after giving birth?
Company leadership should engage in education of managers and employees regarding family leave – paternity and maternity. Create a culture of acceptance.  Train managers not just on the policies, but on how to be supportive of their employees. Give both managers and employees the tools and guidance to execute successfully.  Reinforce that clear communication and expectation-setting is key, and offer guidance on how to mutually outline a plan for coverage during the leave. Employers should take a proactive role in fostering communication with the employee throughout the leave process. As this may be the first time the employee has gone through this process, the employer can act as a guide and a coach, providing direction and insight. Employers can also provide childcare benefits, such as on-site daycare, care-finding resources and backup care assistance. Upon the employee’s return to the office, discuss flexible work options. These options could include allowing employees to work from home a couple of days a week or allowing them to shift hours so they can come in earlier and leave earlier.

What can employees do to ease the transition?
Keep the lines of communication open with HR, your manager and colleagues throughout your leave — though, don’t overdo it as this is your time with your new family. Be open and honest about your plan, expectations and concerns. This will be a dynamic time requiring understanding and flexibility on everyone’s part.