Tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft, have made headlines in the past few years for expanding paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. However, American companies still lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to parental leave, and workers in the U.S. aren’t guaranteed any paid time off at all.
If you’re planning a pregnancy or starting the adoption process, it’s never too early to plan time away from work to bond with and care for your new arrival (and yourself). No matter what your company’s existing policy, you may be able to negotiate. Private employers are often open to policy changes if an employee lays out a compelling case. Do some homework before you sit down with your manager or HR director and consider the strategies below.
Know What You’re Entitled To
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid leave for new parents. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles you to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave if you work at a company with more than 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius of the worksite, you’ve worked there for a year, and you worked at least 1250 hours during the previous 12 months. As of 2015, same-sex couples are included in the benefit.
The federal government allows states to set more expansive leave policies, and many states have. Five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) now guarantee paid leave for some workers. Find your state’s family and medical leave law here.
Know What Your Industry Offers
Study your company’s employee manual to understand its existing leave policy. If you work at a smaller company, there may be no policy in place. In that case, you’ll need to discuss it with your manager or HR director. Don’t be surprised if your company doesn’t offer paid leave. Only about 12 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. However, about 39 percent of employees are able to take advantage of some sort of paid leave after the arrival of a baby, usually by relying on sick or vacation leave.
Be aware that what your company calls paid leave may actually be short-term disability (STD) benefits, which provide full or partial paychecks for a certain period after childbirth. These benefits are available for medical conditions, so they are only available for birthing mothers (not fathers or adoptive parents). STD premiums are sometimes paid by the employer, but sometimes employees must sign up pre-pregnancy and foot their own premiums. Usually, women must provide a doctor’s note documenting that the pregnancy or childbirth requires time off. Read all the fine print to understand the benefits and necessary procedures.
Once you’re familiar with your company’s policy, check out the policies of similar companies to get an idea of what’s usually offered in your industry. Find these on company websites and recruiting sites with company reviews.
Outline Your Needs
It’s time to think about yourself. What’s best for you and your family? Remember, you’re not going to get what you need unless you ask. If this is your first child, you may not know what to expect. Talk to friends or family members who’ve been through it, and read up on developmental stages, breastfeeding, or your particular concerns.
Consider all the different options that may help your family care for and bond with your new arrival. It’s often easier to negotiate a period of part-time work, telecommuting, or a designated nursing room over more paid leave. You’ll be more likely to get what you ask for if it’s in line with what’s offered in your industry. But don’t be afraid to ask for more than you expect; that’s how negotiating works.
Outline the Benefits to Your Employer
If you request paid leave or extended time off, you need to make a compelling case that your employer will benefit too. Fortunately, there’s some research on your side. After California implemented paid leave, 91 percent of businesses reported the law had a positive effect or no effect at all on profitability. In other words, most companies didn’t lose any money.
Moreover, parental leave is a powerful tool for retaining employees, especially women. When Google increased its paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50 percent. That’s significant because replacing a high-level employee can cost a company twice the employee’s annual salary.
In addition, paid parental leave can help employees work more hours later, perhaps because it encourages bonding and breastfeeding, which boost children’s health. After California implemented paid parental leave, women with children between the ages of one to three worked about 10 percent more hours than before implementation of the act.
Negotiate for All Parents
When you sit down with your manager or HR director, present a clear plan, outline the benefits for your employer, and bring along supportive data to have the best shot at getting what you request. Ultimately, you probably won’t get everything you ask for. But remember, you’re making a difference just by talking to your employer. Informing companies about the benefits of parental leave helps move the needle toward more generous leave packages for American parents. That’s important for the health of the next generation and businesses, too.
Resources to help employees:
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury
- Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood by Allyson Downey