Employment Agreement

How do you negotiate Parental Leave?

Oct 2, 2023

We’re completing our mini-series by focusing on how to negotiate Parental Leave. This post builds upon our first post on legal baselines mandated by state and federal law and last week’s review of current trends across companies. Negotiations are always tricky, and especially so for the sensitive topic of Parental Leave. Let's start!

Set your target by building on legal and industry standards

At a minimum, your employer must abide by the federal and state legal requirements. Some states cover a full 12 weeks of paid leave up to $1,000/month, while others expand eligibility to companies with just 1 employee. From there, review the industry standards to get a sense of what is reasonable to ask of your employer and what might be a non-starter. Building from those standards and looking at your personal needs, put together your target parental leave policy, as you might with your cash compensation. It might look something like 16 weeks at 100% paid with immediate eligibility upon employment.

Understand the current Parental Leave Policy

You might’ve asked basic questions about the company’s parental leave policy during the interview stage, but once you’ve got an offer is the time to really dig into how it works in practice. While you probably don’t want to come across as laser-focused on parental leave only, you can ask questions such as:

  1. Can I speak to a parent at the company to learn about their experience?

  2. Do you offer flexibility to support parents as they transition back from parental leave?

  3. How has your parental leave policy evolved over time?

The goal at this stage isn’t to negotiate a brand new policy just for yourself, but to understand what the company’s actual policy is in practice. Employers are legally required to provide the same policy to all employees, so you’re not negotiating an exception for yourself, but learning about ways that policy can address your needs. For example, flexibility with the transitional phase after parental leave could extend the time you're looking for with a new child.

Negotiate the implementation of your Parental Leave

Negotiating parental leave is difficult for two reasons: it’s not generally held as something negotiable (”It’s company policy, take it or leave it.”) and negotiating it once you’re already expecting limits your leverage. As a result, most individuals don’t address parental leave until taking one is inevitable, at which point negotiation may be limited and success strongly tied to performance. Let’s walk through the different scenarios:

  1. Company policy does not meet federal and/or state legal requirements: You can cite the relevant laws and the company must adopt at least those requirements as their parental leave policy.

  2. Company policy is below the bar of industry standards or trends: You can cite the relevant data and suggest improvements which allow the company to have a benefits package competitive in their industry. Smaller and younger companies are more likely to be receptive to making such company-wide changes if viewed as a competitive advantage. For example, citing a growing trend to have equal parental leave across birthing and non-birthing parents so one parent isn’t held at a disadvantage.

  3. Company policy is below your target parental leave policy: Without a leadership position, pushing a company to improve an already industry-standard parental leave policy is likely difficult. What you can do, however, is receive approval for supplemental personal leave and/or a phased return to full-time. We want to re-emphasize again that companies cannot legally give preferential parental leave policies to individuals, but managers typically have discretion to approve leaves of absences and part-time setups if you’re in good standing.

Last week, we compared the abysmal US parental leave standards to the global average of 29 weeks for birthing mothers. To wrap up this mini-series on a positive note, it’s worth noting that the US has the opportunity to pave the way for unprecedented eligibility for parental leave in providing equal and inclusive leave for all parents. While the adoption of fully inclusive policies is just beginning, we hope these posts have provided the basic information to help individuals exercise their rights to parental leave.

For advocacy and beyond,
The Ask Ginkgo Team

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