Do You Have a Winning Parental Leave Policy?

Joe Weinlick
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Parental leave is more than just giving working mothers six weeks off when your employees have a newborn baby. This benefit should reflect contemporary standards that millennials demand in a highly competitive job market. To that end, your human resources department must craft a solid yet simple policy that lets employees and potential hires know you care about your employees' families.


Even though 86 percent of Americans don't have access to paid parental leave, many large firms tout this benefit because they are trying to attract top talent. Between 2015 and 2017, 75 elite firms issued press releases saying they offered this paid benefit. Time off ranged from the standard six weeks up to 20 weeks or even a year of paid leave in terms of raising a child.

Despite these advances, there is one major mistake made by many of these companies. They only offer parental leave if the employee is the primary caregiver. Of those 75 firms, one-third, or 34 percent, had policies that only gave paid leave to primary caregivers. This left stepparents, adoptive parents and even some life partners out of the joys of raising young children.

Old-Fashioned Ideals

One policy stated that the pregnant mother was automatically considered the primary caregiver in the family. Another stated that even in the case of adoption, the birth mother or surrogate mother is the primary caregiver. These types of limited parental leave policies could hinder your recruiting because younger workers, especially millennials, value a work-life balance. Even men who adopt children want leave as a benefit, or they'll look to another firm that does have this benefit.

Legal Ramifications

Vaunted financial firm JPMorgan Chase learned this lesson the hard way. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming the bank's leave policy discriminated against men. Other companies should take note that even if the policy looks neutral on paper, male supervisors who balk at men taking leave as primary caregivers risk a sex discrimination lawsuit similar to the one facing JPMorgan Chase. The issue with the bank's policy is that it gives primary caregivers 16 weeks of paid leave, but secondary caregivers only get two weeks. The ACLU sued by saying this particular policy discriminated against fathers.

A Simple, Forward-Thinking Parental Leave Policy

Human resource departments need to create a simple policy with two basic tenets to avoid any litigation or the loss of top talent. The firm should provide for the time when women are physically unable to perform their job duties following the pregnancy. This is a disability leave policy. Second, it must treat primary and secondary caregivers equally, whether it offers six weeks or unlimited time off. An equality policy should include same-sex partners and adoptive parents, regardless of whether the couple is married. The HR department needs to see official documentation of the event, including a birth certificate or adoption papers, so the company follows official channels.

You need a liberal parental leave policy because millennials are taking over the workplace. By 2027, millennials should make up 75 percent of the labor force. This generation's top talent may eschew companies without an equality policy simply because these workers want it all, including a great family life.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bunkers at


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