In order to attract and retain top talent, simply having a progressive parental leave policy isn’t enough.Your policy and employee handbook should set clear expectations about how and when the policy can be used, along with examples, so employees already know what to expect in the event they decide to utilize the benefit. Leaving things up to interpretation can mean employees don’t understand their rights and People teams feel less prepared. That’s why we created this 10-step checklist for People teams to review their existing parental leave policies. If you don’t have a policy in place yet, check out our free sample policy generator.
Note: The following checklist was crafted by Cocoon’s in-house team of leave experts. However, it is not legal advice or a legally-reviewed policy checklist. It should be used only as a framework or starting point to review your own policy. Work with your legal counsel before introducing any leave policy updates or changes to your employees.
Regardless of your policy, employees may be entitled to protected and/or partially paid leave under FMLA or applicable state programs. Any parental leave policy must be coordinated and integrated with federal FMLA, state, and local leave requirements, and applicable company policies and benefit plans.
1. Parental leave policy statement
Why: A policy statement sets the tone, giving you the opportunity to call out company values and give a brief overview of how your policy supports employees.
- Explain why you offer paid parental leave.
- Show how your company policy interacts with federal, state, and local leave laws.
2. Employee eligibility
Why: Clearly outlining eligibility before describing benefits helps avoid any misunderstandings with employees that may not qualify for your policy.
- Identify who’s eligible for your policy.
- E.g. is it only full time employees?
- Call out when the policy can be used: From day 1 or after day 90?
Tip: 43% of Cocoon customers have a tenure requirement, and of those that do, the median is 6 months–compared to FMLA’s 12 months.
3. Qualifying leave reasons
Why: Clearly explaining when your policy can be used helps prevent misuse and reduces the number of questions HR receives about it.
- Define when your policy can be used (qualifying leave reasons)
- FMLA and state leave laws have their own defined qualifying leave reasons you need to be mindful of, but you should also outline your company’s policy.
- E.g. “Eligible employees may take paid parental leave for periods when they temporarily are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (before and after childbirth) and/or bonding with a child following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. [Sample Co.] treats multiple simultaneous births or placements as a single leave under this policy.”
4. Leave time and pay
Why: Setting clear time and financial boundaries helps employees plan their leave accurately so they can plan ahead and feel prepared.
- Outline how much the company policy covers, for how long, and when it must be used.
- E.g. “Non-birthing parents can take up to 10 weeks of leave at 100% of pay, and it must be used within 12 months of the first day of taking leave.”
Tip: If you’re wondering how your policy stacks up against your peers, check out Cocoon’s 2023 benchmarks.
5. Intermittent leave
Why: Each leave comes with its own unique circumstances, prompting some leave-takers to ask for certain accommodations. Think through these scenarios to ensure HR gives clear and fair answers to everyone.
- Clarify whether intermittent leave is acceptable under your policy.
- This may look like a minimum increment of a day or requiring that the time be used in a maximum of 4 chunks.
Tip: Most employers in Cocoon’s benchmarking dataset require 2-week minimum leave increments to reduce disruption to work.
- Offer guidance on PTO usage.
- Are employees allowed to use PTO before or after their leave to extend their time off? If not, call that out here so they know right away.
6. How to request a leave
Why: Documenting your leave request process makes responsibilities clear so there are fewer questions or opportunities for a misstep. It’s also easier to scale and change the process when you formalize the steps.
- Outline step-by-step how employees can request a parental leave.
Tip: If you use a leave software like Cocoon, this is entirely self-serve for employees
7. Medical documentation requirements
Why: Failure to obtain and present certain documents by specific deadlines can mean benefits are denied or delayed. Make sure employees know what they need to obtain and submit, and when to expect it in the process.
- Provide an overview of employee responsibilities to obtain medical certifications.
- Outline what’s required within the medical documentation.
Tip: The employee Claims Task List provides a checklist with the necessary documents, due dates, and how to submit their to their medical providers.
8. Return to work and job restoration
Why: Having a return to work plan not only makes leave takers feel wanted and welcome, but also sets clear boundaries about communication while they’re out on leave that can be awkward to rectify once they’re out.
- Outline what this process looks like at your company.
- Think about the timeline for your employees and HR team. When is it appropriate to start communication?
9. Group and non-group health benefits
Why: Suddenly losing access to benefits you were counting on or regularly use can cause a negative employee experience, so make sure leave-takers know what will continue, stop, or be put on pause.
- Explain which benefits continue and which ones are put on pause.
- For example, do they continue to vest stock? Do they have access to wellness stipends?
10. Coordination with statutory leave benefits
Why: Planning a leave can get pretty confusing when you’re doing it in a spreadsheet, Google Doc, or email chain. Clarifying this up front ensures you avoid situations where an employee tries to take any time available to them through their state program before utilizing your company policy.
- Clarify that your policy runs concurrently with statutory leave benefits.
Now that you’ve double checked your parental leave policy, you might also want to refresh your familiarity with FMLA policies to ensure you’re offering both a progressive and compliant leave.
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