Sun Life expands paid leave benefits, adds new option for family members

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Sun Life, a Toronto-based financial services, life insurance and benefits provider, is expanding its paid family and medical leave benefits for all of its U.S.-based employees, giving workers more paid time off and the option to take time to care for non-family members.

The expanded benefits will allow Sun Life employees to better care for themselves and their loved ones, the company says. The employer also is offering a “chosen family” benefit, which will allow the employee to care for someone who may not be blood related. The new program covers approximately 3,500 employees and goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

“We have employees who have real challenges in their personal and family lives and sometimes those can’t be balanced at the same time,” says Dan Fishbein, president of Sun Life U.S. “It’s very important to give [employees] the opportunity to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families.”

The expanded leave benefit is part of a larger improved benefits initiative that Sun Life rolled out last year with its sabbatical program. Every fifth anniversary employees can take up to six weeks of paid sabbatical leave for any purpose they choose.

This latest rollout includes four months of fully paid family leave and covers care for ill family members, family members injured on active duty and family members called to military duty.

Additionally, it will allow workers to take time off in the event they, or a loved one, experiences domestic violence or sexual assault. Employees who become a bone marrow or organ donor will also be covered under the extended leave policy.

Birth parents will get six months of fully paid leave, including two months of medical leave for childbirth recovery, in addition to the four months of family leave. Employees can take advantage of six months of paid medical leave for an employee’s own illness or injury, with the first four months at full pay.

Previously, Sun Life offered employees 26 weeks of paid medical leave through a short-term disability program, but did not offer paid family leave. The organization offered an unpaid FMLA leave and job protection. Previously, birth mothers could take eight weeks of paid maternity leave, but anything longer would come out of their vacation time or be unpaid.

Now, in a unique twist on family leave, Sun Life will allow employees to use this policy to care for loved ones who are like family.

“We’ve defined family in a broad way to include chosen family members,” Fishbein says. “As long as the employee can demonstrate a family-like relationship with somebody, they can access the caregiver leave for someone in their chosen family.”

Paid family leave is one of the most important benefits across all generations of employees, according to a Deft Research survey. Yet only 14% of the American workforce has access to an employer-sponsored paid leave program, according to a report from the Boston Consulting Group.

“The reality is when people are facing these kinds of situations they’re likely not very productive at work anyway,” Fishbein says. “By giving people a complete period of time to address a personal or family situation, they’re much more likely to come back to work with the situation resolved, able to focus and be fully productive at work.”

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