How Paid Family Leave and Related Programs Can Help Your Business

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How Paid Family Leave and Related Programs Can Help Your Business

Picture of Dr. Patrick K. Collard

Dr. Patrick K. Collard

Employment benefits that improve quality of life, increase flexibility, and enable people to attend to their personal needs rank high among employees and job-seekers. And yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 79 percent of employees have paid sick leave, only 23 percent have access to paid family leave. 

What’s the difference between these benefits? Sick leave typically entitles people to take time off work when they or a family member are ill or need to see a doctor for preventative care. State-mandated sick leave benefits often top out around 40 hours per year, but paid sick leave is a common benefit many companies offer even when it’s not required by law. Employees appreciate being able to rest and recover without a ding to their paycheck. In addition, employers win because employees don’t come to work while sick and risk infecting coworkers and customers.

Paid family leave programs, whether funded by the state or offered by an employer out of the goodness of their heart, generally cover more lengthy illnesses and life events. For example, California’s state-sponsored program provides up to eight weeks of wage replacement benefits in 12 months. In addition, benefits can be collected when taking time off for the birth of a child or adoption or foster care placement of a child; caring for an employee’s family member with a serious health condition, and participating in a qualifying event as a result of a family member’s military deployment to a foreign country.

Unsurprisingly, not many companies offer their own paid family leave benefits. It is expensive, so states typically provide paid family leave benefits to fund it through payroll deductions. For employees, unpaid leave is better than no leave, but unpaid leave isn’t always a realistic option. In many cases, people who need time off to care for a family member can’t afford to take it—or they don’t take as much of it as they’d like. As a result, they feel they have no choice but to work. Paid leave, on the other hand, gives people a real option to take time off. It makes it possible for them to balance their obligations at work and home.

Paid family leave can have an upside for your business too. When people feel needed at home but can’t afford to take time off, they are distracted, extra stressed, tired, and prone to burnout. Their mind isn’t on the job—it’s on the loved one that needs them. When a business offers paid time off, it invests in its people, a small short-term loss for a big long-term gain. Paid leave gets people back to work when they’re ready and able to work effectively, and it generates feelings of loyalty toward the company that was there for them when they needed it. That’s why employers keen on attracting and retaining skilled people often offer various paid leave benefits when they’re not legally required to do so.

If you determine a paid family leave benefit is something your company would like to offer, here are some of our recommended practices:

  • Communicate what your paid family leave policy covers—how much money and time is offered and for what reasons. Many different benefits can be put under the “family leave” umbrella. To avoid confusion or misunderstanding, be clear about what you offer. Paid leaves include baby bonding, bereavement leave, care for an ill or injured family member, and military family leaves. Clarify what each leave can be used for. For example, if you offer paid time off for bereavement, your policy might specify that it can be used following the death of an immediate family member or the loss of a pregnancy.
  • Be sure that you aren’t creating a discriminatory leave program. For example, to avoid a gender discrimination complaint, provide baby bonding leave for both parents in equal amounts. Baby bonding leave should also be available for an employee who is adopting or fostering a child.
  • Similarly, if you also provide paid short-term disability benefits, treat paid leave for baby bonding separately. In other words, pregnant employees would get disability benefits when they’re disabled during and after pregnancy. Then, once they’re no longer disabled (or when their disability benefit runs out), their paid family leave for baby bonding starts. But, again, collapsing pregnancy disability and baby bonding leave together could give rise to complaints of disability discrimination or gender discrimination.
  • Encourage the use of your paid leave programs. Sometimes employees are nervous about taking time off—or too much of it—even when it’s offered to them. They may feel that they’re inconveniencing their coworkers or irritating their boss—as though paid leave is allowed but may be frowned upon. This is a cultural problem, and it has a cultural solution. First, regularly talk to your employees about the importance of taking time off—for whatever reason. Second, when people take time off, talk about it as a good thing. Third, if the situation calls for it, offer additional support. Finally, let the employee know you’re there for them if needed. 
  • Ensure that employees aren’t penalized for using paid family leave. Often there is a disconnect between what HR and company executives want to offer and what managers tolerate. For example, if you saw a trend that employees who use the paid family leave benefit are less likely to be promoted, you’d want to look at why that is and take steps to correct it. In addition, if employees discover that using their benefits puts their career development at a disadvantage, this may discourage them from reaping the benefits of paid time away and expose the company to discrimination claims.

Dr. Patrick K. Collard is the Managing Member & Evidence-based HR Consultant for trustHR | GObackgrounds (San Diego, CA and Brookfield, WI). He has over 30 years of experience as a human resources consultant. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society and a Master of Human Resources and Employment Relations with a concentration in Employment and Labor Law from Penn State University. Dr. Collard earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland Global Campus. He defended his dissertation – Recruiting the Untapped Talent Pool of Hiring an Employee with a Criminal Record: A Systematic Review. Schedule a Discovery Call with Dr. Collard at –

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