We’ve talked about the importance of empathy for modern employers, and providing caregiver leave (beyond parental leave) is a crucial way to show up empathetically for your employees. Beyond building goodwill and showing that you care about your team members, paid caregiver leave is also important for ensuring an equitable workplace. For example, because some state entitlements already include caregiver leave, you may have a California-based employee entitled to paid leave, whereas someone in Wyoming would be unable to take paid leave for the same reason. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are covered and able to take caregiver leave, but it isn’t paid.
In this article, we’ll discuss what caregiver leave is, why your organization should implement a caregiver policy, and how to start writing it. We’ll also look at data from other organizations, states, and countries, which you can use to determine what you should be offering.
The ultimate guide to supporting team members through leave
Download our free guide to better equip managers at your company to approach employee leave with empathy and organization.
What is caregiver leave?
Caregiver leave grants employees time away from work to care for the serious medical needs of a loved one. While you’re probably familiar with FMLA, you may not be aware that it covers parental, medical, and caregiver leave. Caregiver leave is separate from parental leave (maternity leave, in particular, is a more prevalent and better understood workplace benefit than caregiver leave, according to the Congressional Research Service). This means that whether or not you have a written caregiver leave policy, employees may still be entitled to protected time off.
FMLA explicitly covers care for a domestic partner, spouse, child, or parent. However, some state policies, like California, cover additional relationships like parents-in-law or grandchildren. It’s important to consider who is included in differing state policies when writing your caregiver leave policy to ensure employees have equitable access to leave. We recommend broadening the recipients of care covered under your corporate policy to include grandparents, grandchildren, parents in law, siblings, and other close relationships.
How to write a caregiver leave policy
Cocoon recently launched support for caregiver leave within our leave platform. Whether or not employers have a written policy, Cocoon automatically verifies employers are in compliance with any state and federal laws that apply to an employee seeking leave.
While paid caregiver leave policies lag behind parental and medical in popularity, progressive employers know their employees expect more support than what the state may offer. A written policy ensures equitable access to caregiver leave for all employees.
Here are the first questions to ask your organization when creating your policy:
- Who is it for? This includes both tenure requirements as well as which relationships you will deem eligible for caregiver leave.
- How long will your caregiver leave be? The customer leaves cited in our survey range from 4-12 weeks, although country data provides anywhere between two days and three years.
- What percentage of an employee’s leave will you pay? Consider FMLA eligibility and whether you’ll offer full or partial pay and for what duration of the total leave time.
- What state policies impact your employees? How are remote employees or dispersed teams impacted differently?
Our recommendation for creating equitable leave policies is to offer the same amount of time and pay for bonding, medical, and caregiver leave (e.g. 12 weeks each). Not everyone in your workforce will choose to become a parent, but everyone could need to become a caregiver or take a medical leave. When these three policies are the same, everyone in your organization has access to the same leave.
Once you’ve answered the questions above and are ready to create your policy, you can easily input your preferences into our caregiver leave policy generator. From there, customers can turn on caregiver leaves within our platform.
Benchmarking caregiver leave across countries and corporations
Corporate caregiving policies
Of the 29 companies Cocoon recently surveyed, about one third (31%) currently have a caregiving policy in place. These leaves vary from four to 12 weeks, unpaid to fully paid, with and without tenure requirements, and with varying relationships covered under the policy.
One example is a publicly traded company which offers 12 weeks caregiver leave paid in full with no tenure requirement. Relationships covered within the policy include spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law, sibling, child, and grandchild. Another example, this one a private company with under 100 employees, offers eight weeks of caregiver leave for all of the same relationships as the public company, but the leave is not paid for at all by the company.
We recommend paying for 100% of the employee’s policy while on caregiver leave and again, offering the same amount of time you already provide for bonding and medical leaves.
Caregiver leave in other countries
Examples of progressive caregiver leave policies in the United States are harder to come by than parental and medical leave policies. We find it helpful to look to the laws in other developed countries, which commonly lead the way ahead of U.S. employers.
Among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, 75% offer caregiving benefits of some type, which range vastly, from two days to three years (for children under 20 in France). What constitutes caregiving also differs, with some countries (like Estonia) offering paid leave only to care for a child below a certain age.
Some countries (like Australia) offer fully compensated caregiver leave, while others offer partial wage replacement. A 2018 report by the World Policy Analysis Center found that OECD caregiving benefits are often financed through national social insurance programs.
This all goes to show that there is not a standard approach to caregiver leave, and, as of now, policies are up to the discretion of different states, countries, and private employers. We recommend implementing a fully paid caregiver leave that is inclusive of many types of relationships, as opposed to limiting the policy to, for example, children and spouses.
Currently in the United States, federal law does not require paid leave of any type, leaving the responsibility to states and corporations. Equitable and accessible paid caregiver leave is one of the crucial benefits that will be offered by an increasing number of modern, progressive companies. While there is no standard across caregiver leave within or outside of the U.S., companies can draw from existing and proposed policies to create their own paid caregiver leave policies.