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December 1, 2023

Three considerations for employers implementing a strong family bonding leave policy

Sarah Dahl, Robyn Bartlett and Andrew Drabik

Families are born and built in different ways. In today’s competitive environment, employers have the opportunity to recognize the diverse array of parenting structures and roles in the workforce. One strategy that can be utilized is developing supportive parental leave programs to attract and retain a talented workforce.

One common program employers rely on is short-term disability, which covers the costs of paid leave to provide income to birthing mothers as they medically recover after birth. Though non-birth parents may have leave available to them, disability pay does not compensate for bonding time. This type of leave gives all parents time to bond with their new children. This gap in disability coverage often leaves non-birthing partners and adoptive parents entirely uncompensated.

The spectrum is wide when it comes to the parental benefits employers offer today. Our 2023 Absence, Disability, and Leave Benchmarking Report found that approximately 70% of surveyed middle-market employers provide bonding leave for the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child. Among those surveyed, a high degree of variability ranged from six weeks to over three months. However, our findings also noted that around 32% of employers don’t offer any bonding leave.

Employees across all ages and life stages have high expectations for comprehensive offerings extending into different lifestyle and well-being facets. Businesses that adopt their own parental and bonding leave policies to reflect their unique workforces will have more success attracting the best talent.

Why should employers create their own paid parental and bonding leave policy?

The bonding leave benefit your company offers can shine a bright light on your business. Here are four reasons to consider a bonding leave policy:

  • Bonding leave allows for flexibility to customize the plan. Your organization can dictate how much you’d like to contribute (up to 100% of the salary) and whether the bonding benefit runs concurrently with the federal policy or takes effect afterward.

  • Bonding leave unifies offerings across multistate employers. Employers who create their own corporate paid parental leave policy ensure parents across their workforce are provided with unified paid time off to bond with the newest addition to their family.
  • Bonding leave supports diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Your organization can empower employees in many circumstances to build their families on strong footing when you provide adequate compensation time to accommodate a foster or adoption situation of a child other than a newborn.

  • Bonding leave advances recruiting and retention efforts while communicating a resounding commitment to your workforce. Employees today have a sharpened focus on supportive family benefits. This offering becomes a powerful differentiator during the hiring process.

Three steps to implement a strong bonding leave benefit 

Companies should be intentional and organized when establishing a parental and bonding leave benefit. Here are three steps to getting started:

1. Write an official bonding leave policy. 

Create a clear, gender-neutral policy that includes all parenting roles and leaves nothing open for employee interpretation. Your policy should answer these questions:

  • Who are potential candidates for the benefit?
  • Who is eligible? Are there tenure or other requirements that must be met?
  • How long does the benefit last? 
  • What percentage of salary does the benefit cover?
  • What life events trigger the policy to go into effect?
  • What happens in the event of multiple births? 
  • Is job protection associated with the policy? 
  • How is this policy differentiated from and coordinated with other medical/disability benefits and/or types of paid leave?
  • Do we offer a slow roll-back-to-work component that allows full-time employees to gradually transition back after their leave

2. Engage and consult with all applicable resources.

There are many legal requirements to account for as you build your bonding leave policy. An employment law attorney can be helpful, especially if your business works across multiple states. As almost all employers have their maternity benefits run concurrently with FMLA, it’s critical to ensure the new components of your policy don’t contradict what’s written in your FMLA policy or conflict with other state requirements. 

Tackle capacity planning with your human resources team and other key stakeholders so you can mitigate issues that may arise when an employee is out on leave. By proactively involving internal benefits professionals early in the process, your team will have clearer insights on what to do when multiple people are simultaneously on an extended leave.

3. Clearly communicate the new bonding policy.

Effective communication and implementation are just as important as creating the policy. Add a new parental bonding leave section to your employee handbook and distribute it to all current employees and new hires at onboarding. Include an internal tracking process to ensure it is read and acknowledged.

Train managers on the new bonding leave policy and give them a refresher on all other types of leave your organization offers. When employees need support, they don’t always use the right words or know what to ask. Managers must connect with HR to bridge the gap and help guide employees through the process.

How Marsh McLennan Agency can help

Supporting your employees’ growing families with a comprehensive bonding leave policy isn’t just the right thing to do. It can also help attract and retain top talent in a competitive workplace, strengthen employee morale, and contribute to a healthier, more productive working environment. 

Schedule a consultation with a leave specialist to view the results of our Absence Disability and Leave Benchmarking Report.