Most small businesses would be happy to provide their employees with parental leave, and most employees would be happy to receive it. However, small businesses typically have a limited number of resources to cover leave beyond what may be required by law. By understanding basic obligations and by conducting a proper analysis of your organization, you can determine how much time off to offer employees for the care for birth or placement of a child.

Is My Business Obligated?

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act dictates that businesses with 50 or more eligible employees must provide qualified individuals with up to "twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth." Generally, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA, according to the Department of Labor. There are, however, a few exceptions; for example, under the FMLA, government agencies and public and private elementary and secondary schools are required to offer FMLA leave to eligible employees regardless of the total number of employees. As a small business owner, you'll need to create your own policy for maternity and paternity leave, which takes federal and applicable state laws into consideration. For example, some states (such as California and New Jersey) require paid parental leave.

Should You Offer Parental Leave?

Many small businesses do not offer maternity and paternity paid leave due to limited resources. In fact, research conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management shows that only 17 percent of employers of all sizes offered paid parental leave in 2016.

An assessment of your business's available resources and the costs of providing leave should help determine if you can afford to offer maternity and paternity leave. Even a short paid or unpaid leave, such as three weeks, may help retain talent and create the company loyalty that in turn helps small businesses grow.

If you do decide to offer parental leave for parents to bond with or care for their child, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission makes clear that you must provide leave to both men and women on the same terms, if leave options extend beyond the time needed to recuperate from childbirth.

How Much Time Off Should You Offer?

In a perfect world, all small businesses would be able to offer employees with leave benefits comparable to those required under FMLA. However, most small businesses have limited resources. Base your decision about what to include in a leave policy on what is right for your particular business. You'll need to ensure that you keep your employees happy and loyal, and, at the same time, mitigate any risks to your business, such as potentially disrupted work flows or unanticipated costs. Finding the right balance may involve administering a general leave policy geared to all qualified employees, with a certain amount of paid or unpaid leave or a combination of both. Also consider flex work or telecommuting as potential options.

By offering parental leave terms that are within your business's capability, you can help foster work-life balance and contribute to employee satisfaction that may pay off in the long term.

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