Where to begin with maternity leave policies
A maternity leave policy determines how much time mothers get off work before and after the birth of their babies. Maternity leave is an important time for mothers to bond and care for their newborns. It gives them a chance to develop their parenting skills and create a childcare plan for when they need to return to work. Businesses offer various levels of maternity leave, even extending it to both parents of the newborn.
Employers need to follow various maternity leave laws to ensure mothers are treated equally and are given enough time to recover from childbirth and care for their infant.
Three crucial concepts
When creating a maternity leave policy, consider the length of leave, whether it is paid or unpaid and who is eligible for leave:
Length of maternity leave
In the United States, businesses with 50 or more employees are required to give new mothers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for maternity leave. However, not all businesses are required to follow this law nor are all employees eligible for maternity leave.
Some businesses decide to go beyond the 12 weeks and offer their employees extended leave or flexible work options after the 12-week period. By being accommodating to new mothers, you are likely to increase their job satisfaction.
Paid or unpaid maternity leave
As a benefit to employees, some businesses will decide to still pay mothers during the entirety of maternity leave or for at least part of it. This alleviates financial stress for the family and helps mothers make the most of their maternity leave. By paying mothers, you are helping them relax and fully enjoy their time with their new baby. This can help them return back to work refreshed and motivated.
Who is eligible for maternity leave
Maternity leave was initially offered so mothers have ample time to recover from childbirth. However, as maternity leave policies begin to shift, more employers are extending leave to fathers and other caretakers as well. This could be a great perk your company offers to recruit more employees who are more likely to stay with your company long term.
Next steps for creating effective maternity leave policies
Maternity leave policies are changing to be more accommodating for new parents. Here are some steps to take when creating your business’s maternity leave policy:
1. Accommodate parents in various situations
As the nuclear family becomes less common, businesses should consider less traditional familial situations. Here are a few situations businesses could account for:
- Fathers who want to take on more childcare responsibilities
- Mothers who need extended recovery time
- Employees who choose to adopt a child
- Employees who get a foster child
- Employees who become parents through surrogacy
By providing all employees maternity leave regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or familial situation, you are creating a more inclusive work environment.
2. Make the transition easy for parents
When employees need to take maternity leave, it should be a smooth process. There should be a system in place where other employees take care of the new parent’s tasks while they are away or your business could hire a temporary employee to take the new parent’s place during their time away.
After mothers return from maternity leave, employers need to provide a private space for them to pump their breast milk. Mothers should feel comfortable stepping away from their work for a moment to pump. Create a designated location that includes a comfortable place to sit, a lock on the door and a refrigerator to keep breast milk.
3. Create wellness programs for all employees
As you make your maternity leave policy more accommodating for employees, consider taking it a step further by implementing other employee wellness initiatives. Here are a few ideas:
- Gym memberships
- Yoga classes
- Mindfulness seminars
- Time for meditation
- Healthy food in the office fridge
- More sick days
- Team-building activities
By offering some of these perks, your employees may feel more motivated, productive and relaxed.
Read more: How to Reduce Employee Turnover
Maternity leave FAQs
There are a lot of factors to consider when creating an effective maternity leave policy. Here are some frequently asked questions about maternity leave:
Should my business offer flexible work schedules after maternity leave?
Having a new child is a big undertaking for your employees who are new parents. Help them transition back to work by offering flexible work schedules. This could be half days for a few weeks or the option to work remotely for a while. By letting new parents come back to work gradually, you will help them feel prepared to get back into work.
Does my business need to have a procedure for requesting maternity leave?
In order to ensure everyone is in agreement about the maternity leave, you should have a procedure for requesting maternity leave. Here are the steps to follow:
- The employee should give a formal written request for maternity leave to both their supervisor and the business’s human resources department. The employee should include when exactly they will need to take off for maternity leave.
- If required, have the employee submit proof of pregnancy or adoption. Outline what constitutes proper documentation.
- The employee needs to meet with their team to delegate tasks while they are away and implement a plan for when they return. During this meeting, everyone will discuss appropriate ways to contact the employee during their time away.