Paid leave policies must expand beyond birth, death

NEW ORLEANS — As paid leave becomes a more popular benefit, employers need to ensure their policies are assisting employees in a meaningful way, experts said at the Employee Benefits Forum & Expo on Tuesday.

Adding a new paid leave policy can be daunting, said Anna Steffeney founder of LeaveLogic, a company that assists employers in implementing paid leave policies, who spoke at the Employee Benefit Adviser and Employee Benefit News-sponsored event.

While some states like Washington and California have laws requiring family leave, more employers across the country are making moves to update and expand their policies, she said. It’s important to think about where your company falls and develop a policy that employees will use. That starts with examining who is already taking paid leave.

“Understand your current usage rates and who’s utilizing the existing benefits,” she said.

When medical equipment developer Medtronic surveyed employees prior to bolstering their paid leave benefits to six-weeks in May, they found that workers were looking for leave opportunities beyond just time to bond with a new child, said Jim Tierney, the company’s benefits manager.

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It’s important to provide employees with the opportunity to take time off for an issue they may be experiencing at home, like compassionate care for a terminally ill relative or a family member on military leave, he said. “If they are distracted by personal issues, they probably won’t be doing their best in the office,” he added.

“If there is that need still at home, and they’re not fully engaged at work, you don’t have somebody there,” he said.

According to Renee Albert, senior benefits director at Facebook and EBN’s 2018 Benefits Professional of the Year, the social media giant offers four months of parental leave paid at 100% of the employee’s salary. It also provides six weeks of paid family leave at 100% pay and 20 days of bereavement leave that can be taken over one year and does not have to be used consecutively. This way, Albert noted, employees can take the time they need to mourn a loved one’s death on the days where it may be the hardest.

“Grief is a really long process, so it allows them to take a bereavement day in the future,” she said.

Facebook conducts benefits surveys to make sure that HR understands employee engagement. The survey often includes the question, “Do you think Facebook takes good care of you?” and so far, they have a 90% affirmation rate.

“I need their input to make sure I’m getting it right,” she said.

But it’s not just about giving employees the time off, all three panelists say. Once an employee returns from a leave of absence, HR executives need to make sure their managers understand that employees may have just experienced a major life event and could need to adjust back to being in the office.

“How do you create an environment where a manager recognizes that an employee just went through a transformation?” Steffeney asked.

If individual managers have issues with employees taking paid leave, HR needs to step in to make sure they understand why the time off is necessary, they say. When an employee returns, they will be better prepared to tackle their job.

“Let them resolve those issues and when they come back they’ll be a better employee,” Tierney said.

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