Four Questions to Evaluate Your Organization’s Paid Leave Policies in 2022
- Current paid family and medical leave policies in the U.S. put employees at a disadvantage when dealing with serious medical concerns.
- If passed, the Build Back Better Bill would expand current requirements and guarantee four weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers, regardless of location, employer, or work status.
- With employee expectations for employers changing, offering paid leave benefits puts organizations in a position to improve employee retention and build sustainable cultures.
- Corporate executives can lead on this issue by evaluating the policies within their organizations and taking action to advocate for a national policy that protects the rights of employees.
Did you know nearly 80% of private-sector employees do not have access to paid family leave at work? This is according to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data also show that less than 60% of workers have access to federal unpaid family and medical leave, and of those who qualify for it, many can’t afford to take it.
The realities of paid family and medical leave policies in the U.S. put employees at a disadvantage when dealing with serious family and medical issues. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these disadvantages and disproportionately impacted the most marginalized workers, including people of color, women, and low-wage workers.
Currently, the federal government does not mandate paid parental leave for workers. While there are laws that offer some protection for workers, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the lack of a national policy means employers are responsible for providing these benefits for employees.
In the past five years, almost 200 major companies have introduced new or expanded policies that have benefited their organizations. In addition to improving employee health and gender equity, they also position the companies as a competitive employer, a benefit that is especially important at a time when employee expectations for employers are changing.
At the start of a new year, reviewing your paid leave policies puts you in a position to improve employee retention, build sustainable cultures, and prioritize employee health and wellness.
The Opportunity with Build Back Better
In November 2021, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Build Back Better Bill, a $1.75 trillion spending bill that includes provisions for national paid leave. If enacted into law, it would guarantee four weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers, regardless of location, employer, or work status.
Why are these provisions significant? For one, a national policy on paid leave work would improve health and economic outcomes for workers. Additionally, the lack of restrictions on employment status would mean more protections for workers than is currently available.
Presently, the FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for serious medical conditions or a new child. It also provides up to 26 weeks of protected leave for certain reasons related to a family member’s military deployment.
However, the law only applies to employers with 50 or more employees, workers who have been with their employer for at least a year and worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. This leaves a significant population uncovered in times of emergencies.
The Build Back Better Bill is currently sitting with the Senate for further discussion and paid leave is still at risk of being eliminated. Corporate leaders have an opportunity to advocate for comprehensive paid leave for workers and help support workers and their families.
Evaluating Your Organization’s Paid Leave Policies
While the push for a national policy is underway, there are still steps that organizations and leaders can take to ensure their policies and practices are inclusive and equitable. When evaluating your organization’s policies, here are a few questions to ask:
1. Does the policy cover all workers, regardless of position?
As mentioned earlier, some of the setbacks with current policies are the restrictions around who qualifies for coverage. For instance, some employers limit who receives paid leave as a benefit by excluding part-time, lower-wage, or hourly workers from coverage.
However, studies show that providing paid leave benefits businesses’ bottom lines by providing a competitive benefit that helps attract and retain workers. So, consider how position and employment status influence the coverage you offer employees.
2. How do we account for parental, health, and caregiving needs?
Equitable and inclusive policies account for the different realities of employees. This means providing comprehensive support for biological parents, adoptive parents, and parents in non-traditional families.
It also means accepting that some employees may need time to care for serious medical conditions for themselves and family members, and understanding this need often extends to non-nuclear and chosen families as well.
3. Do we provide meaningful duration of leave?
As you review your organization’s policies, consider whether employees are provided with a meaningful duration of leave to be able to attend to their needs. For instance, you can use the FMLA as a guideline to provide at least 12 weeks for paid parental, family care, and medical leave.
4. How are employees empowered to take paid leave?
Setting policies is important, but managers and company leadership must ensure that these policies are implemented across the organization. Employees should feel empowered to take leave without the fear of discrimination or retaliation.
To that end, consider how information about the policy is communicated to employees, how company culture supports employees who need leave, and how employee input and feedback on policies is collected.
As organizations adapt to a changing workforce and new expectations, inclusive paid leave policies will be critical for advancing racial and gender equality and improving the health of employees.
Corporate leaders can take a leadership role on this issue by evaluating and extending the policies within their organizations and taking action to advocate for a national policy that protects the rights of employees.
To learn more about inclusive paid leave and how your organization can support it, download the Paid Family and Medical Leave Guide for Workplaces in Support of Women developed by Kindred members and the National Partnership for Women & Families.