The Benefits of Parental Leave
Having a child is one of the most incredible experiences a person can have, as well as one of the most challenging.
From the first moment they come into your world, you know in your heart that your life will never be the same. There will be much hardship to endure, your patience and perseverance will be put to the test in ways you couldn’t begin to imagine, but the love and joy that comes with it is beyond compare. Parenthood will change you through and through, forcing you to tap into sources of inner strength you never knew you possessed, as well as imparting time management skills and a strong sense of accountability.
These attributes translate well to the workplace, but sharpening them through parenthood is best accomplished if you can take time off of work in the first place.
This is where we get parental leave.
Parental leave is a policy that allows employees to take a certain amount of time off work so that they may care for their new child, without jeopardizing their position of standing within the workplace. While some workplaces offer parental leave as its own independent time, other workplaces will grant parental leave by tapping into the employee’s sick leave, vacation time, short-term disability, or even unpaid time off.
Exact policies vary from workplace to workplace, with regulations differing from state to state, but the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that requires most companies to allow employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth (or adoption) of their child. I say “most companies” because there are certain conditions that may exempt a company from adhering to the FMLA, such as the number of employees at a workplace, the length of employment of the individual, and the employee’s wages.
If you’re planning to use parental leave, you should always check with your company’s policies and with your state’s laws regarding the matter. Even if your company does not meet the conditions for exemption, the FMLA still requires you provide at least a 30-day notice to your employer regarding parental leave. What’s more, it is advisable you work with your employer to make the necessary arrangements to cover your absence well in advance, such as when you will leave, how long you will be gone, who will be covering your tasks, and whether your pay or benefits will be effected during this time.
Some women prefer to start taking maternity leave right before having their baby, so they can be comfortable and ready to give birth instead of risking their water breaking at the office. Other women prefer to wait until the baby has been born first, that way they can use as much of their available time off to be with their child.
Unfortunately, there is considerable stigma against women who take maternity leave, and especially against men who do so.
Some employers believe that women will be unwilling to return to work if they have too much time off with their child, and try to pressure women out of taking as much time off as they would prefer. Some others are simply unwilling to give time off and will therefore be less likely to hire women in the first place. This sexist stigma is so strong that many do not even contemplate men taking parental leave at all, and those that do try to take it are similarly pressured into taking off less time than they may be entitled to.
Fearing judgment and job security is not conducive to a healthy workplace, such a toxic company culture may result in poor employee performance and high turnover. Indeed, businesses should take steps to encourage parents of any gender to use their parental leave to not only help combat the pervasive stigma, but to also foster a more rewarding and attractive work environment. Allowing employees to make full use of parental leave aids immensely in the quality of their home life and personal relationships, and these improvements to their quality of life will result in boosts to their morale and performance on the job. Employees who are well taken care of by their workplaces are far more likely to return that care, contributing to the long-term success of the company instead of looking for more understanding and accommodating employment elsewhere.
Much like parenthood itself, navigating parental leave policies is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. There are sure to be issues that come up along the way, but if handled properly, the benefits will more than make up for it.