New England Businesses Lead U.S. in Offering Parental and Sick Leave

by | 27 Jun, 2017

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Netflix, an online video service, announced a new parental leave policy in 2015 that put a smile on the faces of some of its working moms and dads. The streaming giant’s new leave policy allows many of its working parents to take unlimited leave during the first year following childbirth or adoption.

A growing number of organizations are incorporating expanded leave policies, with tech companies leading the public relations charge: Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon, to name a few.

Meanwhile, New England businesses are swelling the ranks of those offering leave as a benefit, cutting the number of private industry workers who lack access to family leave by a third in the last 5 years, more than twice as fast as the nation as a whole (“Unpaid Family Leave,” National Compensation Survey-Benefits, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

The Benefits of Offering Additional Family and Sick Leave

Even for the most dutiful of employees, leave sometimes becomes necessary, especially when they become new parents. But maternity leave remains uncommon, and paternity leave even rarer.

RELATED: How the Massachusetts Paternity Leave Act is Affecting Small Businesses

When companies extend such benefits, employees are freer to make big life decisions without the worry of facing workplace consequences. They know where their next paychecks will be coming from and, more importantly, they know their jobs are safe. Other employer and employee benefits include:

    • Less accommodation of employees outside a set policy structure, which lessens stress, time commitment, and paperwork.
    • Employees with access to a leave policy can plan for farther in the future, increasing their financial stability.
      • Women may not feel as much pressure to put their careers on hold when having children, leading to higher levels of gender equality in the workplace.
    • Lower company turnover and workforce unemployment, as employees with access to great benefits are likelier to stay put.

New England Leads U.S. in Offering Sick and Family Leave

Statutory leave in the United States has lagged behind the rest of the world, a backdrop against which companies such as Netflix stand out in offering policies that surpass statutory minimums. The question of whether such high-profile efforts will encourage other companies to start offering more leave, however, has yet to be answered.

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the U.S. government requires businesses of at least 50 employees to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to recover from an injury or illness, care for a loved one, or provide post-pregnancy child care.

Some U.S. states require businesses to do even more. New England leads the nation in mandating leave, with five-out-of-six states in the region augmenting the FMLA with additional requirements:

    • Connecticut: Increases the amount of unpaid leave, allowing up to 16 weeks for employees who work at least 1,000 hours per year at companies of at least 75 workers. It is also the first state to mandate paid sick leave, of which employees can acquire up to 40 hours during each 12-month period.
  • Maine: Extends unpaid leave to smaller companies, requiring up to 10 weeks wherever at least 15 people are employed.
  • Massachusetts: Under the Small Necessities Leave Act, employees can earn up to 24 hours of unpaid leave to attend to family obligations such as children’s educational activities or accompanying family members to medical appointments. Employees can also accrue paid sick time of up to 40 hours per calendar year.

RELATED: How Will the New Paid Sick Leave Law Affect Massachusetts Small Businesses?

  • Rhode Island: One of only three states to have enacted a paid leave statute, Rhode Island uses payroll taxes to fund its system. The state’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program requires employers to opt in and provides 4 weeks for employees to care for a newborn or family member and up to 30 weeks for a personal disability.
  • Vermont: Similar to Maine, Vermont extends unpaid leave to smaller companies, those 10 employees or more. Like Massachusetts, it also provides 24 hours per year to attend the routine educational and medical appointments of children or family members.

Offering Leave at Your Business

Companies that question the wisdom of offering additional leave are right to be concerned about the costs. When employees can’t work, opportunities are lost. Without a government mandate applying to like businesses, those that choose to offer leave may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to rivals whose workers show up more consistently.

Some companies are ahead of the curve in offering paid leave. Yet others are finding ways of meeting workers halfway. One option companies have is to offer temporary disability insurance to employees, policies that pay a percentage of salary to those who must miss work for an extended period due to a medical condition.

Thanks to states and businesses breaking new ground, paid family leave is quickly becoming a federal issue. It has yet to be seen whether new, high-profile parental leave policies at companies such as Netflix and Amazon will become an object lesson or cautionary tale for American businesses. Until then, those that want to offer more leave to employees face a hard choice. They should seek the knowledge and advice they need to get their own leave policies off the ground. Future generations may thank them for it.

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Tom DiSilva
Tom DiSilva has been providing professional human resource services for over 30 years. As the CEO of Navigate PEO, he actively partners with organizations of all sizes in the Greater New England area and across the country to help their businesses grow. He has expertise in HR and Labor Management, offering guidance and support for key areas of business such as negotiations, operations management, employee coaching, and employee benefits design. He is an active member of The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), Professional Association of Co-Employers (PACE), and The American Payroll Association (APA). He is deeply committed to giving back to the community both personally and through Navigate Cares, which provides support for several nonprofit organizations such as the USO, The Boys & Girls Club, and the 3Point Foundation.

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Disclaimer: this article does not represent expert advice and is provided for informational purposes. Please get in touch if you would like expert HR advice.