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5 types of employee leaves beyond parental and medical

Pregnancy loss, military family, compassionate, caregiver, and gender affirmation leave policies may not be on your radar—but they should be. Here’s why.

Megan Lierley
Megan Lierley
5 types of employee leaves beyond parental and medical

At Cocoon, we constantly talk to People leaders about the ways they approach progressive employee benefits. Adapting employee leave to fit modern priorities and families is something we hear time and again from the teams we work with. Making employee leave accessible and easy to manage is a great way for employers to demonstrate empathy and retain talent. Today, paid parental and medical leave policies are table stakes—the most competitive employers are considering leaves that reimagine the modern workplace. 

What’s the difference between leave and PTO?

One question business leaders may ask when approached about increasing types of leave is, can’t people just use vacation time (PTO)? It’s important to stress that just about any reason someone would take a leave is a life changing one. Even joyful changes, like having a child, come with huge lifestyle adjustments that take time to figure out. Leaves like bereavement, for example, are by definition, very different from a vacation and should be viewed through a different lens. 

Giving people dedicated leave time enables them to adjust, grieve, or focus on the huge life change they are undertaking without worrying about the optics (i.e. it looks like they’re out on a weeks-long vacation) or using up valuable PTO which should be used to rest and recharge.

Benchmarking your employee leave policy 

Depending on the size of your organization and current leave policies, you may reevaluate leave at different intervals. We asked the people leader of a ~300 person company in the cannabis industry how her team approaches when and why it may be time to reevaluate leaves. 

The leader explained how her team may consider adjusting leave policies during an annual review, with a new fundraise, or simply when an idea is brought to the team. Additionally, she said, “Our team reviews feedback from our employee surveys, reviews benchmarks and articles, attends conferences, and reviews our employee population to see what leaves would be most beneficial for them today and in the near future. We also listen to our People Business Partners for trends they're noticing. We may reevaluate our policies as we see unique employee situations arise.”

Employees are involved in the process via survey feedback, and ultimately decisions are made with the people ops team and executive leadership. 

A good starting point may be determining what types of leave are common within organizations in your industry and/or that are similar in size.

Cocoon’s benchmarking data shows parental, medical, and caregiver leave policies broken down by company size and industry. Understanding how your peers approach leave helps ensure your offerings are competitive. 

Employee leave beyond parental and medical leave

Here are a few examples of types of leave modern employers are considering and implementing to retain top talent.

1. Pregnancy loss leave

One leave type we’re hearing about with increasing frequency is bereavement leave specifically for miscarriage. Pregnancy loss has long been shrouded with stigma but can be a very real and heartbreaking experience for expectant parents and one that traditionally, our society has done very little to acknowledge or honor. Depending on how far along the pregnancy was at time of loss, surgery may be required, so physical as well as emotional healing is important to consider when establishing how much time off to give for a miscarriage or pregnancy loss leave. 

2. Military family leave

Military family leave (different from military leave under USERRA) is probably the least-known FMLA leave type, but that doesn't mean it's not as critical as the others. Employees are entitled to job-protected time for two broad reasons:

1. Military caregiver leave: for employees who need to take care of a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

2. Qualifying exigency leave: for employees who need time to handle urgent issues that have come up because of a family member’s active military duty or their impending call to serve.

While not required by law, many companies offer paid military family leave policies to empower employees to take the time they need (many companies also use Cocoon to manage these leaves, too).

3. Mental health or compassionate leave

Some companies are turning to designated mental health leave both to mitigate fraud around medical leave and acknowledge the importance of mental health in the workplace. One of the people leaders we spoke with mentioned that their organization is looking to implement both a four week mental health leave, as well as “compassionate leave” for people experiencing difficult life events such as navigating divorce. 

4. Caregiver leave

Modern companies are making an effort to make leave more inclusive for people of different backgrounds and at different life stages. For example, consider a caregiver leave that can be used to care for one’s children, but also to care for aging parents. Both situations can be stressful, emotional, and time—and energy—consuming, and it’s important to consider the needs of all team members, not just new parents. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the need for caregiver leave as so many people became caregivers school closures, illness, and travel restrictions turned so many people into caregivers overnight. The silver lining: employers are stepping up in a big way.

5. Gender affirmation leave

The people who will best inform what types of leave will be most welcome in your organization are your team members. One of our People leaders is in the process of finalizing leave to provide time off for employees who are transitioning. This can include time off for gender-affirming medical procedures, but also time off to address employees' mental health or legal requirements for finalizing transition.

Employees remember their leave experience

When it comes to progressive employee benefits, it’s no longer enough to offer paid parental leave. The pandemic has caused our personal and professional lives to merge like never before, and people value flexibility and work-life balance.

All of the leaves we’ve discussed—and there are plenty more important life changes we haven’t mentioned which might also require a leave—are around pivotal life moments. How employers treat people during these moments has a huge impact on how they will feel about your organization. Increasing loyalty and retention while treating team members with empathy and building mutual respect? Sounds like a win-win to us.

It's time to enter the next generation of employee leave