Shaping an Effective Parental-Leave Policy
Managing the workforce of tomorrow has recently become a front-burner issue for corporations, the government, and the media. As employee demographics shift--from a predominantly white, male workforce to one in which women, minorities, and immigrants play a major role--companies are recognizing a need for new strategies and policies to recruit and retain a varied employee population. One policy that may become crucial to recruiting and retaining women employees is a responsive parental-leave policy.
A look at the changing demographics pertaining to women in the workforce sheds light on why creating and implementing an effective parental-leave policy has become so important.
* Women currently make up 44 percent of the workforce; in the coming decade, two-thirds of the net growth in the workforce will be by women.
* Eighty percent of working women probably will become pregnant during their work lives.
* In 1987, 52 percent of mothers of children under the age of one were in the workforce, up from 32 percent in 1977--a dramatic increase in just 10 years.
* In 1987, women held 37.9 percent of all managerial, executive, and administrative positions.
Clearly, women are a major, permanent part of the workforce, and more and more are returning to their jobs after bearing children. Companies that want to recruit the top talent will increasingly seek female employees; to retain them, they will have to consider developing policies that are responsive to women's needs as parents.
Current and pending
Congress recently recognized the changes in demographics with the Family and Medical Leave Act (H.R. 925, S. 249), introduced by Rep. Patricia Schroeder and Sen. Christopher Dodd. The House compromise version of the bill would require employers to provide up to 15 weeks of unpaid, job-protected medical leave for any serious health condition, including pregnancy, and up to 10 weeks of unpaid, job-protected family leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or for a seriously ill child, parent, or spouse. Employers would be required to maintain coverage of health benefits during the leave. Companies with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from the bill, as would employees whose earnings are among the top 10 percent at the firm. Under those conditions, 5 percent of all employers and 39 percent of all employees would be eligible for the benefit. Hearings were held in the House and the Senate in 1988, although a vote did not come up. The bill will be reintroduced when Congress convenes this month, according to Schroeder's office.
Legislation is also pending at the state level. In 1987, 28 states introduced some type of maternity- or parental-leave legislation. Eight states--Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Oregon, Maine, Wisconsin, Washington, and Colorado--passed leave bills, and two states--Iowa and Tennessee--approved maternity-leave legislation. Oregon, for example, requires companies with 25 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to parents of a newborn or newly adopted child. As of January 1988, Tennessee requires firms employing 100 or more to grant four months of job-protected, unpaid leave to mothers of a newborn or newly adopted child.
The corporate response
Many companies are already addressing the issue of parental leave and have developed policies to allow employees to take an "adequate" leave before returning to work. Catalyst conducted a national study of corporate policies, practices, and attitudes toward parental leave. Surveys were sent to 384 of the nation's 1,500 largest companies, based on annual sales. Major findings indicated that
* Ninety-five percent of responding companies provide disability leave to pregnant women. Disability leave is typically six to eight weeks for a normal delivery, and is fully paid at 38.9 percent of companies and partly paid at 57.3 percent. Generally, companies continue benefits during disability leave.
* Two percent offer an additional unpaid, job-protected leave to women. Typically, unpaid leave is offered for up to three months. Approximately half of employers continue to pay for benefits, …