Top companies go beyond federal rules to reach out to working parents

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[ezcol_1third]Abby-Russell[/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_2third_end]By Abby Russell, LiveWell Greenville At Work lead facilitator[/ezcol_2third_end]

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that about 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are a part of today’s workforce (bit.ly/bls-mothers). Yet mothers with younger children are less likely to be in the labor force than mothers with older children – at a difference of almost 10 percent.

To date the United States remains only one of three developed countries without a federal paid family leave law.

On July 14, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new enforcement guidelines under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One particular update is that lactation and breast-feeding are now pregnancy-related medical conditions protected under the PDA, and employers should allow employees the same freedom to address these needs as others with limiting medical conditions. Companies are updating their policies to meet these guidelines and adopting new policies to support modern-day families.

Working Mother magazine just announced its 2014 100 Best Companies (bit.ly/working-mother-best). These companies go above and beyond the federal recommendations, offering not only fully paid leave, but also child care support, flexible schedules, telecommuting and advancement programs to help women continue to succeed in their careers.

On average, the Working Mother 100 Best Companies offer eight fully paid weeks off for new birth moms, three for new dads and five for new adoptive parents. By comparison, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that employers with 50 or more workers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Many of the top 100 companies are making an effort to keep up with their employees’ changing needs. Whether it’s same-sex couples raising kids, or adoptions and surrogacy, there is much more for the employer to consider. Barbara Wankoff, national director of workplace solutions at KPMG, says, “There is no one way to have a family. We want to support all our people, and are very careful to create policies to be all-inclusive.”

Wankoff commented on her firm’s decision to add six weeks to its adoption leave for primary caregivers this year (the total is now 12): “It’s meant to give people time to bond with their child. If we try to shortchange that and rush people back to work, they’re often concerned about having left their child too soon, and therefore are not 100 percent fully engaged,” she said.

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The EEOC provides guidance that parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms; they cannot discriminate between men and women when it comes to parental leave (leave for the purposes of bonding with or providing care for a newborn child). Employers may restrict leave related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions to the women affected by those conditions.

The cost of recruiting, hiring and training the average employee generally outweighs the costs of allowing generous maternity leave and flexible scheduling after the birth or adoption of a child. Unquestionably, a workplace that is accepting and accommodating to employees’ work-life balance needs improves its recruiting and retention costs.

Often, pregnancy-related resources may exist through the employer and community, but go underutilized due to lack of awareness. Many employers offer health insurance that includes maternity management services to covered employees and spouses. These programs commonly provide support and education on prenatal care, high-risk screenings, and breast-feeding.  Employee assistance programs typically have great resources for support and advice on parenting from adoption to childcare to stages of development.

Local hospital systems are also a great resource for expecting parents. In most cases the employer may be the first to know and can recommend available programs and resources to the expecting parents. A discussion of leave for such purposes is a great time to introduce available resources.

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