According to SHRM, paid leave may have been 2020’s biggest workplace news. A number of U.S. companies (between 27% and 52% depending on the study) expanded their paid leave benefits, with paid parental leave growing at a faster pace than paid family care leave1. The states and jurisdictions of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington DC have passed paid family and medical leave (PFML) laws to date and at least another ten states are considering them. In addition, numerous localities have passed paid sick and safe leave laws. These can vary across cities and counties, even within a given state.
On a federal level, laws exist such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, which affords unpaid job-protection, and programs such as the Fischer Tax Credit, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Federal programs offer limited coverage as wage replacement and job protection may or may not be included in each law. A federal paid leave program is now seemingly supported by both democratic and republican parties, with the biggest difficulty being how to pay for it.
In addition, and to complement paid leave policies, more companies are offering and triggering EAP and wellness programs than they have in the past. About a fourth of companies say they provide a caregiver benefit, separate from EAP, that might include flexible work hours, personal time, counseling services, free programs for finding and managing care, employer subsidized online resources, child, or eldercare.2 You can read more about the landscape for caregiver benefits here.
This momentum has been a positive move towards bringing our country closer to the other 40 nations that mandate some degree of paid leave3, and to help employees balance time for work, family, and medical needs, but creating such programs is not without its challenges. With no two state PFML jurisdictions sharing the same standards, the varying employer, state, and federal programs result in a “patchwork” of definitions and standards for companies to contend with. They can also limit employer flexibility to address the unique needs of their workforce, expose employers to financial liability, and create inefficient administration processes4 that result in an increased HR/Benefits workload5.
To overcome these challenges, the time is now for employers to review their state and national employee base and consider how leave benefits can be provided in accordance with their culture, appetite for risk and desired employee experience. Key questions to begin with include:
- Where do the bulk of my employees work?
- What corporate disability, paid family and medical leave and sick or safe leave policies are they subject to?
- How are these plans being offered, administered, and paid for?
- To what extent do they coordinate or integrate with other leave of absence, workers’ compensation and sick or PTO policies? Or with broader health and wellbeing programs?
- To what degree can the process be centralized? Can current vendor partners be leveraged to streamline? Can tools be provided to simplify, educate, and personalize?
Taking these factors into account gives benefit professionals the opportunity to heighten the discussion with senior management, consider plan and policy design more holistically and determine administration that will minimize employee confusion, position managers for stronger engagement, and lead the organization towards better outcomes.
 Leave and Flexible Working Survey, SHRM Employee Benefits, 2019. Paid Time Off Survey, WorldatWork and PTO Inc., 2019. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Survey, Spring Consulting Group, 2020.
 Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Survey, Spring Consulting Group, 2020.
 Data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2018.
 Paying the Way, Large Employers and the State Paid Leave Patchwork, The ERISA Industry Committee, 2020.
 Paid Leave: Exploring the Impacts to Other Benefits Programs, Spring Consulting Group and ClaimVantage, 2020