Companies spend a lot of time and money designing competitive benefit plans to attract talent. It's relatively easy to attract a candidate to a company, but to retain an employee is a completely different challenge.

It's not often that an employee stays loyal to a company for the duration of their career anymore.

But there is one thing a company can do to prove its loyalty to its employees - provide a work-life balance that includes paid time-off for parents to bond with a newborn or adopted child.

The United States is one of the few industrialized countries that doesn't offer or guarantee paid parental leave.

Although American parents could be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, this is not an option that's financially feasible for many families, particularly after having a baby.

So just how far does the U.S. lag in providing paid leave for new parents? To be blunt, pretty far. According to APESMA Professional Woman's Network, here is a comparison between other industrialized countries:

* Canada: 17-18 weeks, wages paid up to 55%

* France: 16-18 weeks, wages paid at 100%

* Germany: 14 weeks, wages paid at 100%

* Japan: 14 weeks, wages paid up to 60%

* Russia: 20 weeks, wages paid at 100%

* Spain: 16 weeks, wages paid at 100%

* Sweden: 450 days, first 360 days paid at 75%, remaining 90 days a flat rate.

* United Kingdom: 14-18 weeks, first six weeks at 90%, flat rate for remainder of leave.

I've been administering FMLA leaves for the past three years and have worked with over 600 different files. Employees are consistently shocked that their FMLA leave could be unpaid. Fortunately, my employer allows for the substitution of paid time-off.

However, I've worked with foreign employees whose home countries offer more comprehensive paid parental leave. When I explain FMLA to them, they forfeit their right to FMLA leave, in favor of returning to their home country to receive fuller income and benefits.

This is a seamless solution, but in the future American employers may have to revisit their strategy regarding parental leave - particularly as workplace demographics change to reflect baby boomers' retirements and corporations filled with independent Generation Y professionals.

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, I believe parental leave will be an important part of benefit plan design that will change in the years to come.

Contributing Editor Emily Chardac is an HR professional with degrees in human resources and international business. She can be reached at

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