When one of your employees is expecting, it can be a stressful time not only for them, but for you. According to a 2008 survey, over 60% of workers had children under the age of 6—and that is a lot of maternity leave. Big companies are regulated under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which details that companies with more than 50 employees must provide both women and men at least 12 weeks a year unpaid leave for medical events including the birth or adoption of a child. Companies with less than 50 employees are often left to make their own maternity leave policies, but many may find that simply not offering any leave is not the best choice.
The reasons for small businesses not providing maternity leave often include false assumptions. Many small business owners overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits. The reality is that providing some sort of maternity leave is known to create a happier workforce, lower employee turnover, and lower worker absenteeism. In studies conducted by both California and Australia, it was found that providing maternity leave benefits boosts over-all productivity within a company.
Once a small business decides to implement a maternity leave policy based on the potential gains, it is important to take into account all federal and state laws. If the business does not fall under FLMA, some states still have mandates about maternity leave. For example, in California, businesses with at least 5 employees entitle women to two-thirds wages (up to $490 a week) for 6 to 8 weeks. Hawaii’s maternity leave encompasses all women employees no matter how big or small the company they work for, and grants them 6 to 8 weeks leave with up to 58% of wages. However, many sates do not have any laws outlining maternity leave for small businesses.
In such cases, one must first take into account who will be eligible. According to the FMLA, only employees that have worked at a company for at lease 12 months are entitled to any benefits. This is something to consider while drawing up your own policy. You may also want to consider if you will offer paternity leave as well.
Once you know who is eligible, next decide on the type and duration of the leave you are going to offer. Intermittent leave is for single events like doctor’s appointments. This type of leave is usually unpaid and requires a week or two notice. Reduced-schedule leave is good for after the birth or at the end of an expectant mother’s pregnancy. This type of leave allows employees to work modified hours to accommodate things like day-care hours. Finally, block-of-time leave sets aside a certain number of weeks that an employee may take off consecutively. When you make a maternity leave policy, you may want to consider outlining just how far in advance an employee must give notice about an impending block-of-time leave. Any of these types of leaves maybe paid or unpaid; but offering paid leave (even is it is at a percentage rate) sometimes is better overall. Not only is it attractive to new hires, it encourages valuable employees to stay on so you will not have to find and train replacements.