Major employers join forces to move the needle on paid leave

Nearly 50 major employers have joined forces to move the needle on one of the workplace’s biggest benefits issues: paid leave.

The National Business Group on Health on Thursday announced its collaboration with dozens of large U.S. employers in the launch of the “Leave Optimization Forum,” an initiative to “help employers enhance leave management programs to better meet the needs of a diverse and changing workforce.”

Members include Amazon, Aon, Cigna, Darden, Dell, Facebook, General Electric, General Mills, PepsiCo, Prudential, Unum and Willis Towers Watson.

The forum aims to develop “a shared understanding of what’s working and not working for large employers, taking a holistic view of leave by identifying best practices and common challenges, frustrations and gaps in solutions,” says the NBGH. The forum plans to look for solutions in the marketplace and policy arenas.

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An employee prepares to pack merchandise at an Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Peterborough, U.K., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. The online retail giant needs smart engineers to help expand its cloud computing division, automate warehouses and develop new gadgets like the voice activated Echo speaker. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

“The time is right for large employers to come together and take a strategic look at leave program design and administration,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of wellbeing and workforce strategy at the National Business Group on Health. “Paid leave is critical to maximize organizational performance and support the diverse needs of the modern workforce.”

The employers that have joined the forum have some of the country’s most notable leave policies. Facebook, for example, offers its employees four months of parental leave at 100% pay, six weeks of fully paid caregiving leave and between 10-20 paid days after the death of a family member. “Employers need to take care of their employees,” Renee Albert, Facebook’s senior director of benefits and EBN’s 2018 Benefits Professional of the Year, told EBN in September.

See also: Facebook raised the bar on employee benefits. Now it’s hoping to start a workplace revolution

General Mills in August more than tripled the length of its paid maternity and parental leave policies, introduced paid caregiver leave, and boosted its bereavement and short-term disability benefits. And in February, Unum introduced a paid parental leave policy providing six weeks of leave in the company’s effort to help workers achiever greater work-life balance.

Ophelia Galindo, Amazon’s global director of leave of absence, disability and accommodation, is the forum’s chair.

Paid leave has been an especially hot workplace topic lately, with companies including Dollar General, TD Bank, TIAA and Walmart adding or beefing up their leave policies in the last year.

But despite its growing popularity, paid leave is often difficult to manage and navigate for employers, says Heinen, citing “the rising cost of managing employee time away and growing regulatory and compliance burden.”

“We plan to showcase issues and challenges that impact employees as well as the business and identify ways to solve for those challenges,” she says.

NBGH says the group will identify and share strategies, including tools to navigate current mandated paid sick and family leave requirements; technology, including shift-swapping apps and return-to-work engagement platforms; and employer case studies highlighting integrated approaches to leave and absence management.

“We’re also looking at how best to support working caregivers and considering the impact of more leaves and longer leave times on team members and colleagues,” Heinen says.

The NBGH says the forum is open to any employer member and notes employer participation will rise.

It’s not the first time NBGH has brought employers together to work on a major benefits issue. In July, the group announced its collaboration with more than 20 major U.S. employers in the launch of the Leadership Forum on Employee Experience,” an initiative striving to bolster employee engagement and improve workers’ experience with employer-provided health and well-being benefits and programs.

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