You have your business plan, financial model, employment contracts and business processes in tip-top shape. Every person in your small business understands their role and your policies for their day-to-day work. But what happens when that all changes? You are expecting a new parent on your team and you’re not sure what you need to do to set up a maternity and paternity leave policy — and you haven’t even thought about what you’re going to do with one less person to get the work done. It might be time to create a parental leave policy.
Parental leave can be tricky for small businesses, but it is possible to survive and even thrive during this time. As a small business owner you need to know what you legally need to provide your employees in terms of leave as well as how to help your team adjust.
Understanding the Benefits of Parental Leave
There are many reasons to offer maternity and paternity leave to your employees. If you have 50 or more employees, you are required by law to follow the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and provide at least 12 workweeks of job-protected leave. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you may not be legally required to provide FMLA leave. However, laws regarding parental leave differ depending on the state you’re in and you still have to abide by The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
Beyond legal requirements, having a parental leave policy is good for your small business. One of the most obvious and important benefits is employee morale. If your employees aren’t worried about losing their job if they have a child, they are more likely to return to work after their leave is up. This saves you time and money from having to interview, hire and train someone new. It also fosters a sense of community, teamwork and diversity within your business.
This time period also provides you with a good reason to cross-train employees and give them a chance to grow at the company. If you have an entry-level employee who is ready for the next step, this can be the perfect time to give them more responsibility and expand their skill set. It also sets you up to have employees who have a deeper understanding of your business and can fill in beyond parental leave, such as if someone else is sick, on vacation or called into jury duty.
Devising a Plan for Parental Leave
To help your small business thrive during parental leave, you need to come up with a plan. You should have a maternity and paternity leave policy in your employee handbook that spells out how much time they can take and whether it’s paid or unpaid. You also should decide if employees can work from home or flexible schedules leading up to their leave and when they return to work.
Once an employee approaches you about a pregnancy, adoption or foster child, you should work with him or her on a plan for while he or she is gone. Go over all of his or her responsibilities and daily tasks. Depending on his or her workload, decide whether you can split up the work between your existing employees or whether you need to hire a temporary worker.
Senior vice president of operations at Little Gyms Alex Bingham explains to Fast Company that his paternity leave helped his company reassess their priorities. They split up his workload between five employees and realized that they didn’t need to add eight hours per week to their current workload but rather look at their process and make it more efficient. He states that many companies do things simply because they always have and when low-priority items don’t get done and nothing bad happens it shows that maybe those tasks weren’t necessary to begin with. This example shows that you can look at your business process and each employees’ responsibilities and come up with a plan for what’s really important.
Hiring Temporary Employees
As you’re creating a plan for parental leave, you need to consider everyone’s workload and time commitments. While parental leave can be a great opportunity for employees to step up and learn new skills, this isn’t feasible for all small businesses. If splitting up tasks is burdening your other employees or taking up too much time, you may need to hire a temporary employee.
Start building relationships with freelancers who may have the skills to take over certain job tasks for a set amount of time. For example, if you need writers, bookkeepers or graphic designers, you can find someone to complete those specific tasks. However, if you need someone with specialized skills, you should contact a temp agency to help you fill the role. Have the temp worker come in ahead of time to train with your employee who’s going on leave so they understand their role and responsibilities. The more they know ahead of time, the easier the transition will be for everyone.
You shouldn’t be afraid to offer parental leave at your small business. By being prepared ahead of time, you and your employees will feel confident in their workload and you can figure out your business finances. Instead of thinking of parental leave as something you have to get through, consider it a great exercise for your business to improve efficiency, team building and morale.