Noodles & Company unveils rare phase-out, phase-in maternity program

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Noodles & Company this week announced a rare leave benefit for new moms to help them ease in and out of maternity leave.

Effective Jan. 1, qualifying expecting and postpartum mothers who work at the pasta restaurant chain will be able to phase-out and phase-in to their maternity leave, working an 80% schedule the four weeks before and the four weeks after maternity leave while receiving 100% pay.

The new perk, meant to be a buffer to help with the transition from pregnancy to motherhood, is in addition to six weeks of paid maternity leave. It’s available to employees with the titles of assistant general manager and above, the company says.

“Phasing out of maternity leave allows mothers time to balance their work and personal lives and creates a work environment where employees can thrive,” the company says.

Paid leave is seen as a differentiator among fast-casual restaurants and other retailers — data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that only 7% of retail workers had access to paid family leave in 2017 — but the phase-in, phase-out perk is unique to most employers. Noodles CEO Dave Boennighausen said the new offering is unavailable elsewhere in the fast-casual industry.

“Our team members work hard for us, and we want to express our gratitude by offering top-of-the-line benefits that support them in and out of the workplace,” he says. Noodles & Company has just fewer than 10,000 employees across 475 locations around the country.

The announcement further expands the Broomfield, Colorado-based chain’s new family-friendly initiatives. Back in March, Noodles added six full weeks of fully paid maternity leave and two weeks of paternity leave for eligible employees. It also added $10,000 in adoption assistance, flexible time off for corporate team members and a breast milk shipment benefit that reimburses employees who travel for work if they need to ship breastmilk.

Earlier this year, Amy Cohen, director of benefits and compensation at Noodles & Co, told EBN that the company wants to offer a benefits package that recognizes the importance of work-life balance, especially because female employees make up about 54% of the company’s workforce.

“Having great benefits is not [about] the benefit itself, but what it represents about the company,” Cohen said. “When you have locations across the country with 20 employees per location, it’s really hard to make sure our culture is being lived and embodied in all of our restaurants.”

Fast food restaurants and other retailers are beginning to beef up benefits — including leave offerings — in a tight labor market.

Last week, Italian marketplace and food hall chain Eataly said it now offers eight weeks of paid parental leave to mothers and fathers following the birth or adoption of a child. Eataly’s policy went into effect in January, and all employees who have been working at the company for at least a year are eligible, regardless of hours worked per week. Employees will be paid 100% of their gross weekly wages for their first four weeks of leave and the second four weeks will be paid at 60% of their gross weekly wages.

Starbucks announced in January that it would add six weeks of paid leave for hourly employees who become new dads. All benefits-eligible birth mothers who work at least 20 hours a week in store or non-store positions for Starbucks are eligible for six weeks of leave at 100 percent of their average pay, and new adoptive and foster parents are eligible for benefits as well.

Walmart also expanded its paid maternity leave policy in January to give full-time hourly employees 10 weeks and expanded its parental leave to six weeks. Dollar General introduced a new paid parental leave benefit in March, offering two weeks of paid time off for all eligible full-time and part-time employees, and eight weeks of paid time off for birth mothers.

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