Paid Phased Return for New Parents Starting to Catch On

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By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel

A vast majority of U.S. workers don’t have access to paid parental leave, which means they probably wouldn’t dream of being paid their full salary to work part-time after returning to work from that leave. PwC is one of few companies offering that coveted benefit.

“Ramp back” to work, or phased return, benefits allow employees to work a reduced schedule for full pay for a period of time determined by their employer following parental leave. PwC recently unveiled the benefit for all employees in response to worker requests for a better way to transition back to work after taking parental leave. More companies are taking a closer look at the benefit as they try to recruit and retain talent.

“As someone who was a ‘return-to-work fail’ after having my first child, I believe an opportunity like this would have helped tremendously with my transition back and could be a great retention tool for many new parents,” Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, director of corporate partnerships at the Boston College Center for Work & Family, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

PwC’s benefit, announced earlier this month, will allow new parents returning to work from parenting leave to work 60 percent of their schedule for full pay for up to four weeks. The change is effective July 1 and available to new parents welcoming a child on or after April 1. Competitors like Ernst & Young and Deloitte offer flexible schedules for employees returning to work after parental leave, but the companies don’t offer it at full pay.

Working a schedule like the one PwC is offering would only cost an employer eight days of an employee’s salary for every four weeks an employee is in “ramp back” status, Fraone said. That cost could be well worth it to a company if they keep employees using the parenting and phased return benefits long-term.

Transition Period

About 13 percent of all private-sector workers receive paid family leave, which can include parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some companies—most notably in the tech sector—have taken the initiative to increase their parental leave policies for workers. Netflix, Etsy, Spotify, Twitter, and Facebook have led the way offering generous paid leave benefits for new parents, but not many offer policies that let employees ease back into work while getting full pay. Vodafone Group, Airbnb, and Choice Hotels are a few of the handful of companies offering “ ramp back” benefits to new parents. Now that these companies have established paid parenting leave policies, they are turning their eye toward flexibility and how to best meet their employees’ needs in other ways.

“We are starting to see companies looking at this as not just, ‘Are you on leave, or are you off?’” Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told Bloomberg Law. Instead, companies are starting to look for ways to transition people back into the workplace, she said.

PwC offers eight weeks of parenting leave to both men and women. Following the birth of a child, women at PwC generally take 21 weeks of leave that’s a combination of parenting leave, short-term disability leave, other paid leave, and unpaid leave. PwC wouldn’t put a dollar figure on the phased return benefit, but told Bloomberg Law that 2,000 men and women took parenting leave in fiscal year 2016.

PwC decided to offer this benefit because being out on leave is wonderful for new parents, “but coming back to work 100 percent is really hard,” Jennifer Allyn, diversity strategy leader at PwC, told Bloomberg Law. The announcement came after the company performed a comprehensive review of its leave policies, she said.

Need for Flexibility

While EY and Deloitte’s benefits stop short of a paid phased return to work, both companies offer more parental leave than most and give employees the flexibility to design schedules after returning from leave.

EY’s process of helping new parents transition back to work starts before an employee takes parenting leave, Ellen Williams, assistant director of EY Americas Inclusiveness Office, told Bloomberg Law. The company offers a coaching program for new parents to help them through the transition of a new child.

The coaching program gives new parents the opportunity to work with a coach to set both short- and long-term goals for returning to work. This allows new parents to have conversations with their teams to figure out coverage while on leave. The coaching can also help employees decide whether they want flexible work from home arrangements or to reduce travel once they return to work.

Having an open dialogue with management is the best way to have a seamless transition back to work for employees, Williams said.

Deloitte also allows employees to work with managers individually to design a schedule that “supports their unique well-being goals and challenges,” Jen Fisher, Deloitte’s U.S. well-being leader, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

Deloitte offers 16 weeks of paid family leave that can be taken in increments within a 52-week period. Once employees return to work, they can work with managers to develop schedules, including adjusting hours, decreasing travel, or working from home.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at kknebel@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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