What should an employee benefits plan look like for working mothers in a post-COVID world? In the months since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a shift towards more remote positions. But what else is changing in the workplace?
The Good: What Do We Already Have?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that employers with more than 50 employees must provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Specifically, for the birth of a newborn, caring for an adopted child, or certain family emergencies. The act applies to persons of any gender and is federally mandated.
Aside from federally mandated benefits, some employers provide extra family-oriented benefits. Several examples include on-site childcare, subsidized childcare, and paid maternity leave.
What Can We Improve?
Going for 12 weeks unpaid is a luxury that not every family can financially handle. However, it’s essential for young children to have their parents present. As the first few years of their lives are crucial for development.
Mercer’s Survey on Absence and Disability Management estimated that 40% of companies offered paid parental leave in 2018, and that fraction rose to 52% in 2019. This uptick is undoubtedly encouraging; more and more companies realize that they have to accommodate employees who have become new parents.
However, is 52% enough? And how many weeks of paid leave are offered before they turn into unpaid leave? There are many variables at play, all of which could be standardized by new benefits required by law. Especially for large corporations, paid parental leave should be required by law. There has been a precedent set for this as well. The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) passed in December of last year. Starting on October 1, federal employees can receive 12 weeks of paid leave. To care for children born, adopted, or placed after the date. We should push for the private sector to follow suit.
On-site childcare is also critical and should become more widespread. Less than 10% of employers offer this benefit, but it has huge perks for employers and employees alike. Employers can receive certain tax breaks, increase overall employee productivity, and decrease employee turnover rates. Employees won’t need to scramble for a solution if a babysitter calls in sick, and can additionally have peace of mind knowing that their child is only minutes away. Patagonia has implemented on-site childcare and reports a 25% lower employee turnover rate, as well as an 11% savings rate from increased employee engagement. This benefit benefits everybody.
What Can We Add?
Ellen, a preschool teacher and mom of three, wants to see more flexible work hours, as well as more generally flexible scheduling. Working a tight 9 to 5 can be difficult when school hours often range between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., and it’s even more impossible when your child has come down with a sudden cold. She suggests that more sick days be available, so that “you won’t have to panic when your kids get sick,” or at least the option to “bank extra hours in one week, and use those in the future as sick or personal days.”
These are all essential. Without these Employee Benefits, parents might find themselves having to prioritize between their child and their family’s livelihood — a decision that should never be necessary.
Especially in the age of COVID, as companies are adjusting to work-from-home environments, we need to accommodate parents who need to stay home to take care of their kids. As stated earlier, the workplace becomes more efficient when parents feel more at ease about their childcare; that’s why considering a more massive swathe of employee benefits isn’t just right for the employee, but their companies as well.
Written by contributor Helen Jiang.