In the United States, 84.3% of women have given birth by the age of 44 years, and women make up 46.6% of the labor force. With these statistics in mind, the importance of parental leave is paramount. So why are so many new parents in the United States feeling unsupported by parental leave policies?

Only 21% of workers have access to paid parental leave in the United States, and the average maternity leave taken, paid or unpaid, is just 10 weeks.

One study found:

“In the first month back to work, 54.9% of respondents reported feeling depressed several days or more often and 71.1% reported feeling anxious several days or more often.”


With consistent data showing that employee health is an all-around win for corporations (and for mothers who make up nearly half of the workforce), let’s take a look at 6 reasons to offer paid family leave in your corporate benefits package.

Why You Should Offer Parental Leave

Mental Health — now commonly referred to as the fourth trimester, the 12 weeks following birth are a momentous time for parents and their babies. The newborn is adjusting to life outside the womb and is more dependent on its parents than at any other time in its life. Feeding, crying, and changing happen around the clock, and separation from the parents is not ideal for anyone involved.

For the birth-giving parent, hormones dramatically shift, life has changed intensively and completely, and sleep and personal time are at a bare minimum. It is no surprise, then, that 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.

Healthy employees are more productive and profitable, and offering paid parental leave and extended parental leave policies help support a large and important segment of your workforce in their mental health and wellness.

Gender Equality — at Ongig, we’re focused on helping to create unbiased, inclusive workplaces for employees. We know that families, just like workforces, don’t (and shouldn’t) all look the same.

Supporting parental leave allows the primary caregiver (of all genders) to take the time needed to care for their young child. Whichever way you cut it, offering parental leave supports gender equality in the workforce.

It is predominantly women who take time off after starting a family, and sturdy parental leave policies support half of the workforce in returning to their role at a time that’s healthy for them and their family — while providing the opportunity for another caregiver to take time off if it makes sense for their family.

Employee Retention — an estimated 43% of highly skilled women leave the workforce after becoming mothers. While this statistic says a lot about how parents are supported after they return to work, it also says a lot about whether they are being encouraged to return at the right time — for the right reasons.

New parents who do not have access to extended paid paternity or maternity leave are likely to return too early, only to not be able to cope and to resign, or to never return in the first place as a decision to have a child has consciously become a decision to leave work entirely.

Employee retention is a cost-saving consideration for any HR team. Solid parental leave policies can help reduce recruitment costs over the long term.

Life balance — work-life balance has been a buzz term since it was coined in the 1980s, and in 2023, 60% of employees felt they have achieved work-life balance. Providing new parents with paid time off and job security helps us all to aim for work-life balance, supporting the importance of the first few months with a new child.

It’s The Right Thing To Do — pretty much every human you speak to will admit that having a baby is not easy. We all know about the sleepless nights and the rollercoaster of emotions, not to mention the genuine physical taxation to the body.

It should come as no surprise then that offering parental leave policies is the right thing to do if you care about your workforce (and you should for your bottom line, if not for your karma).

Did you know that the CDC recommends that babies are solely fed on breastmilk (if possible) for the first six months of life, and that they continue to receive breastmilk for 1 to 2 years? When breastfeeding mothers are encouraged (or forced) back to work within a handful of weeks, they are shouldered with an inordinate amount of pressure to satisfactorily feed their children. It should not be (but is) surprising that countries like Sweden provide up to 240 days of paid paternity leave for each parent (source).

Employer Branding — employer branding is your reputation with current and prospective workers.

Studies show that 86% of people would not work for a company with a bad reputation from former employees. An extended parental leave benefit policy helps to bolster your employer branding, demonstrating the care, consideration, and plain sense that you have as an employer. Take a look at my previous article on Why Employee Benefits are Important for Employer Branding for more on this topic.

Legal Requirements in the United States for Paternity Leave

Here are some legal requirements around parental leave in the U.S.:

The Family & Medical Leave Act ensures eligible workers receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth and adoption, as well as for other situations where an employee may need time off due to their own ill health or to care for a dependant. Eligible employees will have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months (around 24 hours per week) and work for an eligible employer who employs 50 or more employees.

Sick Leave vs Maternity Leave what’s the difference? Some companies, states, and towns are subject to legislation that requires employees to receive paid sick leave for short-term illnesses, prevention, and care. There is no legal requirement for maternity or paternity leave to be paid, though the parent’s job is protected during the covered period.

Federal Employee Paid Leave Act ensures paid leave for 2 million federal employees. The act doesn’t provide any additional leave but protects the new parents’ paycheck as well as their job.

12-Week Obligation states that any eligible employee benefiting from paid paternity leave agrees to work for their employer for a minimum of 12 weeks once the period of leave concludes. Employees must sign a contract to this effect to be eligible for paid leave.

If your company employs less than 50 employees, there is no requirement for them to provide parental leave of any kind.

Companies are required to offer up to 40 hours of sick leave per year to all employees. Exceeding that, your job is unprotected.

At one week old, infants can only see around 8 inches in front of them, babies recognize their mother’s scent even before they are born, and babies are biologically and genetically programmed to bond with their parents via their sense of smell. This requires proximity.

Fully recovering from pregnancy and childbirth can take months (source).

One in four women in the US return to work within 2 weeks of childbirth.

Companies You Know Who Offer Paid Parental Leave

Hewlett Packard Enterprise offers up to 26 weeks of paid parental leave to both parents and a program to assist new parents in transitioning back to work, providing up to 36 months of part-time work.

Zoom provides up to 24 weeks of paid parental leave as well as supportive benefits, including re-entry coaching to help new parents return to work.

Dropbox offer up to 24 weeks of paid parental leave and a host of mental and physical health benefits to assist parents in their return to work.

Why I Wrote This:

Ongig’s mission is to help create healthy, inclusive work environments through positive recruitment practices using tools like our Text Analyzer. Book a call or demo with us to find out more.

Shout Outs:

  1. Fertility of Men and Women Aged 15–49 in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2015–2019 (by Gladys M. Martinez, Ph.D., and Kimberly Daniels, Ph.D.)
  2. What percentage of the workfoce is female? [2023] (by Matthew Zane)
  3. How competitive is your company’s paid parental leave? (by Claire Hastwell)
  4. Employee Benefits Survey
  5. Work Reentry After Childbirth: Predictors of Self-Rated Health in Month One Among a Sample of University Faculty and Staff (by Lynn Falletta, Stephanie Abbruzzese, Rebecca Fischbein, Robin Shura, Abbey Eng, and Sonia Alemagno)
  7. What is the fourth trimester? (by NCT)
  8. Postpartum depression (by March of Dimes)
  9. An HR Glossary for HR Terms (by Bamboo HR)
  10. 6 Reasons Why Women’s Labor Participation Just Hit a 33-Year Low (by Wyndi Kappes)
  11. About the Mom Project
  12. What is Work-Life Balance (by Judy Wolf)
  14. Breastfeeding (by CDC)
  15. Maternity and paternity leave in the EU
  16. FMLA Frequently Asked Questions
  17. What’s the Difference? Paid Sick Leave, FMLA, and Paid Family and Medical Leave
  18. Federal Employee Paid Leave Act
  19. The State of Paid Sick Time in the U.S. in 2023 (by Molly Weston Williamson)
  20. Infant Vision Birth to One Year (by Nationwide Children’s)
  21. Mothers! Your babies recognize your voice & smell right from birth (by Dr. Sudhanshu Grover)
  22. ‘I was risking my life’: why one in four US women return to work two weeks after childbirth (by Miranda Bryant)
  23. Recovering from Delivery (Postpartum Recovery) (by editorial staff)
  24. The Top Six Companies Leading on Paid Parental Leave in 2023 (by Jordyn Avila, Matthew Nestler)

by in HR Content, Human Resources