The United States ranks last among developed countries when it comes to paid parental leave, according to a new study from UNICEF. While the U.S. does have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the law offers unpaid leave and it’s not exclusive for parental leave. FMLA also includes medical leave.
So, when a soon-to-be parent is getting ready to go on leave, how should they prepare? What questions should they ask? What do they need to know? I think that’s what today’s reader note is getting at.
Hi. I’m a sales professional for an HCM company currently on maternity leave. I’m wondering if I can get some information on where to start with a scenario involving my job opportunity and my leave of absence.
I understand that sometimes employees are faced with emergency leaves and they don’t get to ask all of the questions that they want to or should. That being said, when you know that you’re going on a leave of absence, it’s important to do some research.
Unum recently conducted a study among 500 new parents who had or adopted a child in the previous five years. Key findings of their study include that paid leave is the most desired benefit (no surprise) and that almost half of employees did not meet with their manager or HR to discuss their leave benefits (surprise!). To help us learn more about parental leaves, I spoke with Mandy Stogner, health and wellbeing consultant at Colonial Life/ Unum, a leading provider of worksite benefits.
Mandy, let’s put legislation like the FMLA to the side, which has some specific (minimum) requirements in terms of requesting leave. That being said, I’m not sure it makes sense for employees to wait until the last minute to inform their employers about their intent to take parental leave. What are your thoughts on the best time to start making inquiries about a leave of absence?
[Stogner] Welcoming a new family member is an exciting time and cause for celebration but not everyone is comfortable sharing the news with their manager early in the leave planning process.
Putting legislation to the side, my thoughts on the timing would be as soon as the employee is comfortable sharing the news and is prepared to talk about the leave plans. Being able to discuss leave and return to work plans early will help the expecting parent set expectations and have peace of mind while they are out on leave.
In my experience, employees have two types of questions when they go out on leave. The first type are benefits related. What are the top handful of questions that an employee should ask about their benefits when they are getting ready to go on leave?
[Stogner] There are many unique scenarios and questions an employee may have when preparing for parental leave. These are the most common questions an employee may want to know before going out on leave:
- Am I eligible for paid parental leave, state paid leaves, short-term disability , and/or paid time off (PTO)? Are there any other benefits available to me before or after parental leave (lactation support, adoption assistance, childcare reimbursements, etc.)? How do I file for these benefits?
- Are any of my other benefits (401k/pension, PTO accruals, bonus structures, etc.) affected by my leave? How do these entitlements and benefits affect my pay (i.e. What percentage of my pay do I receive? Do I have to use PTO?)
- Am I responsible for paying my own insurance premium? What actions do I need to take to add my new baby to my coverage?
- How long will my job be protected?
- What are the available options for return to work (part time return to work, telecommute, flexible hours)?
I’m glad you mentioned job protections. I find the second type of questions employees ask are about their job. So, what are the questions that employees should ask their boss about the job? On some level, I could see the employee benefits questions being directed to HR and the job questions being directed to their boss.
[Stogner] Once an employee is comfortable with sharing, it may be helpful to schedule some time after the initial notification to set expectations and discuss in more detail the leave and return to work plans. Having a solid transition to leave and return from leave plan will help make the leave experience for the employee and the manager much smoother.
Here are some things to consider when developing a transition to leave plan:
- Make a list of activities, reports, tasks that you are responsible for.
- Outline the processes of activities others are not familiar with.
- Discuss the status and timelines of projects the you are currently working on.
- Work with your manager to develop a plan to shift this work leading up to the employee’s leave.
And here are some questions to ask regarding returning to work plan:
- What will my return to work look like? Discuss logistics like day of week you will start back, start time each day, and the potential for flexible work arrangements (i.e. flexible hours, gradual return to work, telecommuting).
- How do I schedule time for lactation breaks? Where are the designated lactation spaces? How do I access them?
- Is there a group of working moms/dads within the organization that can give me helpful tips to make the transition back to work easier?
Speaking of dads, I’ve titled this post parental leave for a reason. I want to include maternity, but also dads taking leave, adoptions, etc. Are there any questions that would be different if I were taking time off as a father or for an adoption?
[Stogner] It is very important for anyone taking a leave to welcome a family member to understand your benefits and leave options. New dads and adoptive parents should ask the same benefit questions and have similar preparing for leave and return to work conversations previously mentioned. It is also important for companies and the dads themselves to avoid the stigma of taking leave. There is a lot of research around the benefits of dads taking parental leave. Interestingly, showing a correlation between leave time for Dads and an increase in the health and wealth for moms.
So, let’s say the employee asked all the right questions and they’re on leave. Let’s fast forward. You’ve mentioned earlier return to work plans. What types of questions should an employee ask when they’re ready to return to work?
[Stogner] In a perfect world, the return to work details would be part of the employee’s thoughtful leave and return to work planning prior to going out on leave. If not, understanding these five things will be helpful:
- Return to work date and schedule,
- Potential flexible return to work arrangements,
- Accountabilities upon return,
- How work will be transitioned back to the employee and
- Where to find helpful resources
Here are a few articles that readers might find helpful:
A huge thanks to Mandy for sharing her expertise with us. If you want to stay in touch with Unum and learn more about the latest in employee benefits, be sure to check out their WorkLife blog. (P.S. I’m a contributor to the blog.)
It’s time for organizations to make sure employees are informed prior to starting parental leave. Mr. Bartender and I never had children, but I have to think the experience is both exciting and wonderful and a little scary at the same time. There’s no reason to make the employee’s job and benefits the scary part. All it takes is some preparation and open communication.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the Flora Icelandic HR Management Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland13