What are your clients’ biggest headaches? Supply costs? Regulations? I’m guessing it’s staffing. Employees are changing jobs often, and in many areas unemployment is getting quite low. This presents an opportunity for benefit advisers. Benefit packages go beyond insurance. It is important to be versed in what other companies are doing so that you can help your clients create a competitive benefits package. Let’s look at one of the latest trends: parental leave.

Netflix now offers paid parental leave for up to one year, beating out Etsy’s six-month paid leave, and Facebook’s 17-week leave. But it’s not just the tech giants that are offering paid leave. Duke University offers three consecutive weeks of paid parental leave. And Coca-Cola recently announced that beginning in January 2017 it will offer six weeks of paid parental leave.

Bloomberg/file photo

Also see: “10 top compliance issues for 2017 benefit planning.”

According to SHRM’s 2015 Employee Benefits research results, the percentage of companies offering paid family leave was up to 21%, with paid paternity leave at 17%.

As you are talking to your clients about their benefit offerings, if the discussion turns to parental leave, encourage them to consider the following:

  • The length of the leave. The length of time that companies are offering varies from a few weeks to over a year. Each company, and each department, will have unique needs. Trying to offer different policies for different departments or classes of employees may cause morale issues at the least — and discrimination accusations at worst. So encourage clients to look for one policy that will work across the company.
  • Cultural support. Is the company truly ready to support men taking leave or will there be a stigma preventing them from actually taking the time off? At Facebook, parental leave is just called the “four month leave” rather than “maternity” or even “parental” leave and taking the full time off is supported from the top down. Will other employees resent new parents taking time off? How will workload be redistributed when an employee is out on leave?
  • Cost. Paid parental leave may not be feasible for all clients, because of the cost. This can include lost productivity and wages paid to the employee on leave while the work is being done by someone else. Smaller companies face a heavier burden when an employee is out an extended period, with fewer people to take up the missing employee’s workload.
  • Competition for staffing. Remind clients that offering parental leave may give them the edge in recruiting/retention. They will want to think about the competition they face in hiring. In a tough labor market, a program like this could impact where top applicants choose to go, or stay.
  • Coordination with disability benefits. Council your clients on how paid parental leave might work with their current disability plan. If the disability plan pays less than 100%, will the parental plan top off that benefit to 100%? If not, is that discriminatory against women, when you give new dads 100% pay?
  • Alternatives. Encourage clients to consider alternatives like allowing new parents more flexible scheduling, reduced work hours, telecommuting, et cetera.

Paid parental leave is not widespread among employers yet, but it does appear to be gaining momentum. In truly partnering with our clients, we need to look beyond the basics, and help them weed through the many options out there for perks and benefits. Parental leave is a topic worth watching and considering, as part of a robust benefits package.

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