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How to better support employees with ‘family-focused’ benefits

Therese Rubio
Therese Rubio
Therese Rubio is Nava Benefits' founding partner with over eight years of industry experience. Therese started her career at Marsh McLennan Insurance Agency, focusing on serving technology and life science clients creating their benefits programs from the ground up. Therese has experience with PEO takeaways, fast growing start-up companies and implementing fully insured to self-insured programs that best align with a company’s culture and budget. Therese is focused on finding creative solutions to rising healthcare costs for midsize businesses. She works side by side with our clients and has total accountability for the client’s satisfaction.

I remember how confused I was about family leave benefits before giving birth to my first child. And I’m a benefits broker!

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In addition to helping with HR’s recruiting efforts, family-focused benefits can also boost employees’ job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. And, of course, employees who are happy are also less likely to be lured by one of your competitors. For HR leaders, there are a few things worth considering before your organization rolls out or expands benefits in one or more of these three areas: family planning, paid family leave and benefits that support employees after they return from parental leave.

Family planning

Arguably, the most in-demand family planning benefit is fertility assistance. According to a survey from Carrot Fertility, 88% of employees would entertain “changing jobs for fertility benefits.” However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to assist employees is by fully funding fertility treatments. The average cost of a single IVF cycle is $15,000, and implementing a standalone solution tends to start with a multi-thousand-dollar implementation fee, putting it out of reach for most small- to medium-sized businesses.

The good news is that there are less expensive alternatives that can still make an impact on your employees’ lives. For instance, begin by asking your broker about an infertility rider on your medical plans to see what the costs and plan provisions would be. While this is a good start, these plans tend only to cover a limited number of fertility treatment rounds and require the member to go through extensive testing to see if she is even eligible for these benefits. Plus, these riders don’t cover same-sex couples.

So, another route is to provide a wellness stipend. Wellness stipends provide employers the opportunity to expand their benefits package and offer their employee population equitable access to family-planning benefits. The stipend can be designed so that benefits are reimbursed based on expenses incurred, including infertility treatment, surrogacy and/or adoption expenses. This allows the total cost of the benefit to be limited to incurred and documented expenses only, versus implementing a benefit with a per-employee, per-month cost that is only utilized by a small percentage of the employee population.

Paid family leave

The United States is one of only six countries in the world that doesn’t have a national family paid leave mandate. Moreover, only about a quarter of U.S. states have such laws on the books.

This is an opportunity for American employers to step in. You can build out a paid leave program that includes time off to care for a new child, including through adoption, an elderly parent or bereavement due to miscarriage or the death of a child.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before launching or expanding a paid leave program:

  • Ask your broker to help you carve out a short-term disability policy for employees who live in a state where there is no state-run leave program. Doing so, versus insuring your entire employee population, will save the organization money. A short-term disability policy, for instance, can cover an employee’s salary for up to four weeks before having a baby and up to eight weeks after giving birth.
  • To avoid pushing employees back to work after only eight weeks, you can also put a policy in place to extend those employees’ salaries for a set time period. Additionally, you can make this available to male employees to provide a more equitable paid leave benefit.
  • For those employees who do live in a state where paid leave is mandated, think about subsidizing whatever the state pays with additional money to make sure 100% of their salary is covered while they’re on leave.
  • Whatever program you ultimately settle on, it’s important to put this information into an employee handbook and distribute it to everyone in the company, including new employees. Doing so will avoid a lot of confusion and stress among your employees and make HR’s job significantly easier.

Return-to-work benefits

There are a number of benefits employers can make available for new parents returning from leave. The following four—when combined—will allow HR to support these employees in a broad, meaningful way:

Pumping benefits

Make sure you follow all federal and state laws to provide breaks and private areas for mothers to pump. Also, it is a good reminder to let your employees know that insurance carriers will cover a breast pump and supplies at no cost to breastfeeding members. For employers that require their mothers to travel, consider adding in a benefit like Milk Stork, which will ship your employees’ breastmilk to locations around the world.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

This type of benefit gives new parents access to counselors so they can address challenges from being a new parent to juggling work/life balance. EAPs typically are included in the benefits package at no additional employer cost and are free for employees and their families.

Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (DCFSAs)

DCFSAs are funds that employees can use for the care of dependents, including children and elderly parents. With a DCFSA, employees request that a specific amount of their paycheck be deposited into an account. After the employee pays out-of-pocket for a childcare expense, they get reimbursed from funds in their DCFSA account. Money invested in DCFSAs is pre-taxed, which affords the additional benefit of reducing the employee’s taxable income.

Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSAs)

LSAs are accounts funded by the employer every month. Unlike most employer-sponsored benefits, employees—parents and non-parents alike—can choose to spend this money however they want. Parents of young children might allocate it toward babysitter services, while Gen Z-aged employees could decide to use these funds on pet-sitting services or gym memberships. One often-overlooked advantage of LSAs is that, other than funding these accounts monthly, there is no administrative work required by HR.

What else can I do to support working parents?

Outside the realm of “employee benefits,” there are a couple of perks employers can consider offering that won’t cost the organization or your employees a dime:

  • Flexible schedules: Allowing parents and expectant parents to work a certain number of days from home and/or providing flexible working hours is an easy way to show your commitment to your employees and their families.
  • Slack channel for new parents: I’ve seen a number of employers roll out Slack channels for parents and expectant parents. This forum is a great way for employees to share advice as well as bond with their colleagues.

If your head is spinning considering all of these benefits and perks, just remember that your benefits broker is there to support you. They can help you aggregate all of your benefits together into one place and make sure you’re providing benefits that match the unique needs of your employees.