The current state of paid leave in the workplace

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The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a designated paid leave policy, and employers are struggling to meet the demands of a workplace that’s burnt out and stressed with balancing their work and life demands.

However, some employers are making greater strides in providing their workers with holistic wellness benefits that have a direct positive impact on their lives outside of work.

Benefits like early wage access, student loan repayment, and backup childcare have become fundamental for employers looking to recruit and retain talent. But the most significant change employers have been making is expanding their paid leave benefits.

About 24% of employers have expanded their paid leave benefits in 2019 and 30% have added new types of leave to their benefits policies. About 23% are planning to expand their leave policies in the coming years, according to a new survey from Business Group on Health. Intel, Goldman Sachs and Sun Life, among others, have all updated their leave policies to give employees more paid time out of the office to deal with life’s various events.

“When it comes to leave, there is still an opportunity to meet the specific needs of your population,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president at Business Group on Health. “Companies are seeing this as a way to show they get it, and understand the challenges [employees face] and help them deal with work-life balance.”

However, the majority of employers are behind the curve in recognizing the necessity for employer-provided backup child, adult and senior care options. Only 4% of employers offer backup child care services and only 2% offer backup elder care support, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.


“The workplace is so demanding and so much is expected of workers,” says Selena Smith, a leave of absence analyst with OneDigital. “More workers are in a position where they are taking care of children and older parents, [and]these kinds of benefits are so crucial.”

But the data from the Business Group on Health survey suggest this may be changing, as interest and demand for supporting employees’ caregiving responsibilities is growing.

“Leave benefits, especially for new parents and working caregivers, are highly valued by employees and address a growing area of need,” Brian Marcotte, Business Group on Health CEO, said in a statement. “Employers are evaluating, and in many cases, expanding these and other benefits to help meet those needs.”

About 35% of the 113 large employers Business Group on Health surveyed offer caregiver leave benefits, and another 28% are considering offering it by 2022. Some of these employers have also gone beyond standard leave care for a spouse, child or parent, to also cover others people for whom employees may have caregiving responsibilities: 46% of the surveyed employers cover siblings, 46% cover parents of spouse or partner and 38% cover grandparents.

Over 80% of the employers surveyed indicated that employee health and well-being were top reasons that expanded leave benefits were important to their workforce strategy, but still faced challenges with implementation. Seventy-seven percent noted that state and local paid leave laws were a top challenge. About 70% of employers are in favor of a federal paid leave law, if it supersedes state and local laws and creates a uniform process for reporting and compliance.

Holistic wellness benefits are a key component to any benefits strategy that is going to be meaningful to employees, says Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus. When employers are intentional about the way they promote different types of paid leave, it sets them apart in the talent war.

“Paid leave benefits are an important facet to that well-rounded, meaningful benefits package,” Guinn says. “To be competitive in our multigenerational workforce, it’s important for it to be integrated into your overall offering and not just be seen as just a company policy.”

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