Organizational Wellness

Fostering Wellness With the Right Parental Leave Policy

Jan 16, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

It can be hard to tear yourself away from the chubby cheeks of your new baby. Fortunately, more and more companies are prioritizing parental leave policies that do more than barely allow mothers to heal after giving birth. Now, fathers can have time to bond with their little ones and parents can help adopted or foster kids adjust to their new home without worrying about taking weeks off of work without pay. 

Unfortunately, even with progress across the board, there’s still a long way to go toward universal parental leave; only ~20% of Americans have access to paid parental leave and barely over half of employers offer paid parental leave. On the other hand, those companies that have effective parental leave policies in place see a 20% reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth, and up to a 50 percent reduction after five years. And if bringing in top talent is your thing, then it might be relevant to know that 77% of workers say that a competitive paid family leave policy could sway their choice of employer.

In other words, your company can stand out from the crowd with a parental leave policy that does more than the bare minimum and actually helps new parents celebrate this momentous occasion. If you are looking for a simple way to improve employee retention and appeal to new talent, all you need to do is take a look at how the parental leave policies of your competitors compare to your own and offer your employees a generous, well-defined parental leave policy that meets their needs.

There are relatively few laws that apply to parental leave, so you can build a policy that perfectly reflects your company’s culture and values. Now is the time to let your generosity shine. 


Parental Leave Laws

The only federal policy that can be applied to parental leave in the private sector is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act applies not only to parental leave policies but more broadly to the things that employers can and cannot do about unpaid leave. As long as employees meet a few qualifying conditions, they are entitled to at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

According to the FMLA, companies with at least 50 employees that work within a 75-mile radius of the company must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave over 12 months for certain family and health issues. In order to be eligible for leave, employees must have worked at least 12 months with the company and at least 1,250 hours within the last 12 months.

Beyond that, it is up to individual companies to create a policy that works for them. Some states have more specific laws that offer more insight and determine what you need to keep in mind when drafting the policy for your company. For example, some states categorize pregnancy as a “temporary disability,” which means they must offer paid leave for pregnancy if they offer it for other temporary disabilities.

If you really want to appeal to both new and existing employees, offer a parental leave policy that includes paid leave. This allows new parents to focus on the excitement of their new family member without the looming shadow of work.

How to Budget for Parental Leave Policies

The best way to plan for parental leave is to treat it like any other expense. Once you have determined how much you need to put aside, you can examine your spending and strategically cut expenses in other areas to ensure you have the funds readily available. 

If you aren’t quite sure where to start, work with HR professionals to create a plan that will work for your specific situation. An HR professional can help you project the possible costs as well as when and how frequently your employees will likely use the leave. The good news is that it is highly unlikely all of your employees will need to take leave at the same time, so you don’t have to budget enough for everyone at once. 

Sometimes the budget doesn’t allow as much flexibility as you would like. If you are unable to offer as much paid leave as your employees prefer, consider offering them an option with partial paid and partial unpaid leave. This alleviates some of the financial burden while still providing flexibility for new parents.

Building a Parental Leave Policy

Ready to get started on a policy that will leave your employees more than satisfied? Keep a few key points in mind to ensure that it reflects your values and meets the needs of your employees.

Leave Room for Flexibility

Each family and situation is unique, so parental leave policies that offer flexibility are particularly popular. Even if you can’t offer paid leave, you can include details in your policy about how employees can utilize their 12 weeks of unpaid leave from the FMLA. You can allow them to take time both before and after the birth or adoption, or have an option to take the 12 weeks in periodic intervals over the first year with their baby.

However you decide to approach it, your best resource is your employees. Ask them what options are most beneficial to them and use their input to craft a policy that is perfect for your company.

Define Who Is a Parent

Avoid any conflict or confusion by clearly defining who qualifies for parental leave in your policy. While maternity leave policies focus on women giving birth, parental leave policies often apply more broadly to the event of birth, adoption, and new foster parents. The most important thing when defining parents in your parental leave policy is to be consistent with any other policies, like adding dependents to benefits.

Consider a Leave Share Program

Because there is no specific federal policy for parental leave, many companies do not offer any specific options. This means that a leave share program is a great option since it allows parents to share their leave with partners that do not have leave from their own company. 

Make the Transition Easy

The transition back to work after a period away can be an adjustment. Incorporate guidelines for this time into your policy to increase the odds of parents returning to work. You can smooth the transition in a variety of ways, including part-time options to ease back into the swing of things, work-from-home and hybrid options, flexible work hours, and even mentorship programs. 

Support from colleagues who have been through the same situation and understanding on the part of the company can make all the difference. Encourage employees to make the most of parental leave by making it easy for them to come back to work later.

Be Inclusive

Keep the language of your policy gender neutral and applicable to all new parents. Your employees are more likely to use and appreciate the parental leave options they have when it is clear that it applies to all families. 

You should also take a look at your policy and make sure it promotes equal pay. Encourage all new parents to take time off to bond with their new child, no matter what their family looks like.

Use It as a Time to Celebrate

A new child joining the family is an exciting time, and you can offer your employees other perks to help them celebrate. This can come in the form of additional funds to support the parents as they purchase essential items for their child, maternity clothes to keep expecting mothers comfortable, and time to prepare before bringing the baby home.

Update Your Policy Periodically

A parental leave policy is not something that you can create and then forget about. Laws are not stagnant, so you need to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in order to stay compliant. You may also want to adjust your policy once it has been in place for a time based on feedback from employees about what is and isn’t working.


You have a lot of freedom when it comes to your parental leave policy. The main concerns are compliance with any federal and state laws and finding something that works for your team. Learn more about inclusion in the workplace and how it applies to your parental leave policy. 

Wellhub is here to help you create a work environment that your employees will be happy to return to. Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist today for more details.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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