Becoming a parent is a joyful time, but it also comes with a big adjustment period and a boatload of new stressors. As an employer, there are a few things you can do to make life a little easier on employees struggling to balance parenthood with their career. Supporting parents not only benefits your employees but can also help you attract and retain great workers. Who wouldn’t want to work at a family-friendly workplace with an awesome benefits package?
Supporting new parents in the workplace isn’t just a nice thing to do. In some cases, it’s legally required. We’ll go over the laws for accommodating new parent employees and then get into five additional ways you can help employees who have recently expanded their families.
Federal and State Laws for New Parent Workers
Below, we go over some US federal and state laws regarding parent workers:
Family and Medical Leave Act
The most well-known law for new parents is also the oldest: the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which was signed into law in 1993. It allows employees to receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a one-year period without losing their job or employee-sponsored health insurance. It applies to new parents who have had a child biologically, as well as those who have adopted or are fostering a child. The law only applies to private employers with more than 50 employees. To be eligible, employees must also have worked for the company for at least one year.
Employers with more than 50 employees must also give nursing employees “a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed” for the first year of the baby’s life. The space cannot be a bathroom and must be free from intrusion. If you don’t have 50 employees, you aren’t automatically off the hook. You still must provide a private nursing space unless you can prove that this would cause undue hardship for the business.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The most recent federal law that affects new and expectant parents is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. It requires all public and private sector employers with at least 15 workers to to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant people. Reasonable accommodations are changes to the workplace or workflow that don’t cause major difficulties for the employer. Giving a pregnant employee additional break time to eat, rest, and use the restroom is one example of a reasonable accommodation.
US States With Paid Parental Leave
The above laws apply on a federal level, but some state laws grant additional rights to employees who are parents. For example, a growing number of states and jurisdictions are requiring paid parental leave for employees, including:
- California: Up to 8 weeks of paid leave
- Colorado (as of January 1, 2024): Up to 16 weeks for those giving birth
- Connecticut: Up to 14 weeks for those giving birth
- Delaware: Up to 12 weeks
- District of Columbia: Up to 12 weeks
- Maryland: Up to 12 weeks
- Massachusetts: Up to 12 weeks
- New Jersey: Up to 12 weeks
- New York: Up to 12 weeks
- Oregon (as of September 3, 2023): Up to 14 weeks for those giving birth
- Rhode Island: Up to 6 weeks
- Washington: Up to 18 weeks for those giving birth
Hiring employees for the first time? Check out our guide to Federal Requirements for Employers.
5 Ways to Support Parenting Employees
Now that you know the legal requirements, here are some additional ways to support new parents at your workplace:
1. Flexible work hours
If getting the work done—period—matters more than when the work gets done, consider offering your employees flexible working hours. Being able to work outside of the usual 8 am to 5 pm schedule gives your employees time to take their children to appointments, drop them off and pick them up from school, and deal with other family issues that come up. When you let your employees work flexible hours, you’re letting them know you trust them to get the job done regardless of whether they do it within a certain eight-hour window.
Of course, there are limits to this. If you’re running an ice cream shop or spa, you need people there during set hours. But even then, you can allow employees to trade shifts with each other as necessary, as long as you have enough people working at one time.
2. Paid parental leave
The United States offers no paid family leave as a federal requirement, and as mentioned above, only a few states have their own paid family leave program. But offering paid parental leave as an employee benefit is a great way to attract and keep talented workers. Plus, you can claim a tax credit for providing paid family and medical leave.
For small businesses, it can be hard to say, “Yes, you can have a few weeks off at full or partial pay to go bond with your new family.” But even offering a week or two of paid leave can help your employee be happier and more well-rested once they return, and it may even save your business money in the long run.
3. Help with childcare
The cost of childcare can be another shock to the system for new parents. In many parts of the country, it’s also hard to find affordable childcare without getting on a long waitlist.
But as a business owner, you may be able to leverage your community connections to get employees childcare at a reduced rate. If not, consider reimbursing employees for a percentage of their childcare expenses. To make your business even more appealing to qualified job-seekers, you can set up free in-house childcare at your workplace.
4. Mental health resources
New parents are often sleep-deprived, and people who have just given birth in particular can be vulnerable to conditions like postpartum depression. Providing mental health care resources can help parents get a better sense of equilibrium.
Some larger businesses hire an on-call company therapist for employees, but you don’t have to go that far. Simply providing a list of local mental health professionals who are accepting new patients can be a tremendous help for overwhelmed parents who need to talk to someone but don’t know where to start.
5. Remote work options
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many employers view remote work. But even though the worst of the health crisis has passed, remote work options can still be hugely beneficial to a wide range of employees, including new parents.
Employees who work at home have more freedom in their schedule. They don’t have to worry about hopping on the freeway to commute to an office. They can just walk down the hall and sit down. Most parents prefer not to work from home while also caring for a child full-time, but if there’s an occasional childcare emergency, they may not have a choice. Allowing employees to do their job from home is one way to help them balance parenting and work.
We can’t offer childcare, but at Northwest, we can help you manage other aspects of your business. Sign up for a free account today to get access to our legal forms library—every state form you need to start or maintain a business anywhere in the US.