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The Ins and Outs of Creating a Parental Leave Policy

August 16, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227886

Prince William's decision to take a two-week paternity leave following the birth of the famous royal baby George Alexander Louis received a lot of press. But his decision to take time off isn't one most men make. The 2012 National Study of Employers conducted by the Families and Work Institute, Society of Human Resources Management, and others found that leave for the spouses of women who have given birth declined between 2005 and 2012.

It's one thing for the royals to take time off to hang with the little prince, but does a spousal parenting leave policy make sense for your business? The answer is a resounding "yes" if you ask Chris Duchesne, vice-president of global workplace solutions for Care.com, an online service that helps people find caregivers.

Related: Modern Dad? Prince William to Take Two Weeks of Paternity Leave

Duchesne, a father of three, believes that allowing both parents to take advantage of leave makes a big difference when it comes to how your employees feel about your workplace. He advises some key strategies to make it work.

1. Know the law.
Employers with more than 50 employees are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires at least 12 weeks of unpaid, job-guaranteed leave for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, a serious personal medical condition or care of a child or spouse with a serious medical condition be granted to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours during the preceding year.

Some states have laws about paid and unpaid family leave, as well. For example, California's Paid Family Leave law allows up to six weeks of leave with partial wage replacement. It's always a good idea to check with your state's Department of Labor to determine if any state or local laws or regulations apply to your business.

2. Consider the pros and cons when you set your policies.
When it comes to spousal leave for childbirth, policies are varied. Some companies provide paid leave to both spouses. Some provide more time to mothers who have given birth than to their partners. Duchesne says the decision about what your leave policy should include depends on your business and what you can afford.

If you can't afford to offer two weeks' paid leave, perhaps offer a week and the option to take additional unpaid leave, as well. Or, have leave policies accrue as employees hit certain milestones. For example, they might earn an additional day of paid leave when they've been employed a certain number of months or years.

3. Walk the talk.
Duchesne says that fathers in particular are often reluctant to take advantage of paid leave. So, if you set the policy, you should make sure that you're willing to encourage its use and not treat the leave like out-of-office work time.

At the same time, it's okay to set expectations upfront: Let employees know that you expect them to develop a work coverage plan for the time they are on leave at least a few months in advance of when they expect to be out. It's also reasonable to ask if they can be available, at least by phone, for serious issues or emergencies on the job.