Data Driven Management 6 minute read

The solution for companies with poor US parental leave laws

By Sheel Gupta

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with my marketing agency based in Canada. My project manager there, Julia, told me that she had to intro me to another point of contact because she was leaving for maternity leave. I was happy for her but slightly disappointed as well – but fine, I could suck it up for a few months and work with someone else. 

I asked her, “So how long will you be gone? 3 months? 4 months?”

She nervously laughed. Then proceeded, “Um, Sheel…so Canada is a bit different than the US. It’s probably going to be more like 18 months.”

Me: “Sorry it sounded like you said 18 months.  Did you mean 8 months?”

Julia: “Yep – it’s 18 months.”

I was shocked. Eighteen months sounded like a crazy amount of time and I was bummed because I no longer got to work with Julia where everything was seamless. And when you work at a seed stage company, you NEED seamless. But after about 5 seconds of being a jerk in my head, I thought: OF COURSE she should have 18 months of maternity leave. Parents should have time to take care of their babies, themselves, and to adjust to a new way of life.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t live under a rock and I’m aware that the US’s parental leave framework is laughably limited especially in comparison to other countries. What really hit me, however, was HOW surprised I was by something that should absolutely be the norm — and it is the norm in many countries.   

Instead of going into it, I’ll just let this map from the WORLD Policy Center do the talking for me. This is what the law requires in weeks in paid maternity leave:

World Policy Center

So long story short, the US is light years behind.

But fortunately, individuals, companies and even some states are taking it upon themselves to try and make things a bit more supportive to families.

For example: my cousin (who is about to go on maternity leave in a month) is now going to be given 5 months instead of 3 months. This is because her colleague negotiated more maternity leave into her contract when being promoted to a VP. This in turn changed the policy for all women at the company.

My friend at Netflix told me that they offer a full one year maternity and paternity leave. He also mentioned that the employees just stay on payroll and if they feel like they want to stay involved, they can.

But unfortunately, these examples are far from the norm. Companies with a ton of money can afford to offer generous leave. They already invest a lot in recruiting and retaining top talent with perks like gym memberships, all meals of the day, on-site massage, beer cart, etc. It makes sense that better parental policies would be a part of their offerings. 

And even the most family-friendly US tech company policies usually still pale in comparison to what is legally required in the rest of the developed nations. Also, companies that aren’t swimming in money or lack scale have a tougher time affording meaningful benefits regarding family leave. My company is a perfect example. We are a seed stage startup with 8 people. The odds are already against us since building a successful company from scratch is generally considered a 1-in-10 proposition. Every dollar we spend is precious.

What if we were one or two people short for 6 months, or 12 months, or 18 months?  Could we even find someone willing to fill in but only temporarily? The reality is: it would be hard to survive. So what should we do?

Well… the law doesn’t require a company as small as ours to offer anything, so maybe we just don’t provide any time off and replace prospective parents ASAP?

Nope. Wrong answer.

Maybe we should only hire people who aren’t planning on having kids anytime soon? 

Nope. Still wrong.

Perhaps we provide paid parental leave, and afterwards we offer them to work from home for a year?

Ding ding ding ding ding!  That is correct!

It’s so simple right? So simple that I question my logic.  

Which brings me to the main point of this post.

Companies should offer 1 year of working remote after parental leave.

If you are a tech company, you probably already have the tools in place to make working from home possible. Laptops, Slack, Zoom, Humble Dot 😏, project management software, Google docs, etc. And chances are, you probably already have people who work remotely, at least part of the time.

After all, many tech companies are already following the current trend of flex work and remote work because of the demonstrated cost savings benefits and improved employee quality of life (retention). With this in mind, it seems pretty straight-forward (even easy) to extend this option to new fathers and mothers.      

By offering the option to work remotely, the company still gets the benefit of employee output, while the parents have the flexibility necessary to adjust to bringing a new life into the world.  See…win, win, win.

However, this compromise comes with additional responsibilities for the company. The products, processes, and management style that works for employees on-site doesn’t necessarily fully work for remote workers. It is not difficult, by any means, but does require companies to be a bit more intentional. Having remote workers also requires managers to be more organized, have more structure, and focus more on team culture — all of which end up being beneficial for everyone — even those on-site.

So my call to action for employers is to offer all employees the option to work remotely for up to one year after becoming a new parent. Make it just another benefit that you offer. Tech has a unique advantage here because working remote is a lot easier in this space (sadly, this is a lot harder to pull off for other industries.)

Invest in tools and training that make remote workers more successful as opposed to beer and ping pong tables. It is much more important. But do both if you can! 🙂

And to employees – don’t be shy about requesting the option to work from home for a year. Remote work is becoming a norm that has a ton of benefits for companies.

Though it might not be as fantastic as 18 months of full parental leave, giving new parents the flexibility to work remotely is certainly a step in the right direction. Embracing remote teams is one way we can create a solution as we wait for our country to catch up to the rest of the world.

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