Reynolds American adds 16 weeks of paid parental leave

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Tobacco giant Reynolds American is adding a 16-week paid parental leave benefit — with an additional period of flexible scheduling in the following eight months — for new mothers and fathers following the birth or placement of a new child.

The new benefit applies to all 5,000 full-time paid hourly and salaried workers, the Camel and Newport cigarette maker said Monday. The policy will go into effect in January and is paid at 100% of employees’ salaries.

Prior to updating its policy, Reynolds American offered 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

In addition to the 80 days of paid leave, parents also are eligible for up to 64 additional days over eight months through a flexible work arrangement. Candice Brown, vice president of talent and organizational effectiveness at Reynolds, says parents can use this time to create a flexible work schedule that meets their family’s needs. This could include working from home, working reduced hours or taking days off, she says.

“There’s not one family situation that’s the same; they’re all very unique,” Brown says. “This particular benefit allows us to acknowledge that difference.”

The company’s announcement of a flexible post-parental leave program follows a similar one from Noodles & Company last month. 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, Noodles said.

Reynolds American’s new paid parental leave policy is part of its larger program called Parents@BAT, which also provides an online portal to new parents where they can get tips about returning to work. Brown, who recently returned from maternity leave herself, says the portal helped her manage her time when she returned to work.

“I remember a really particular interesting part was about how to balance work-life once you were back in the workplace,” she says.

Only about 13% of all workers had access to paid family leave in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But parental leave benefits are on the rise, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

Companies like Italian marketplace and food hall chain Eataly, the University of Virginia and Walmart have recently expanded their paid parental leave benefits. The benefit has also become more popular among millennials, a group that is prompting more companies to offer additional time off, experts say.

Still, gender-neutral paid leave policies offered by companies such as Reynolds American aren’t as common. SHRM indicates that 40 was the average number of days employers offered for maternity leave in 2016. For paternity leave, the average fell around 20 days.

Brown says she thinks the benefit will help Reynolds American attract and retain new talent long term, as candidates pay more attention to a company’s paid leave policies and other benefits they can take advantage of.

“We hear people talk about the importance of paid parental leave as they’re making those decisions,” she says.

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