October 11, 2017

Develop a Maternity Leave Policy

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Dairy producers are often concerned about the maternal well-being of their cows. Do you offer maternity leave for your employees? Under the Family and Medical leave Act (FMLA) employers of 50 or more employees are required to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for the birth and care of a newborn child and for placement with the employee a child for adoption or foster care. Providing maternity leave for employees is a smart option even for businesses that are exempt from FMLA too. 

“Even if FMLA does not apply to you, according to a U.S. Department of Labor survey, providing both maternity and medical leave is proven to make a positive impact on the lives of workers without placing an undue burden on employers,” says Caron Beesley, a small business owner and consultant. “Abuse of these policies is also much lower than expected, and 90% of workers return to their jobs after taking FMLA leave.”

On dairy farms the challenge is often figuring out how to cover labor needs while an employee is on leave. Beesley says business owners should prepare the business for team members to be able to take maternity leave. One way to prepare is to cross train dairy staff. Cross training is becoming more and more common on dairies as a way to hedge against the severe fluctuations in the labor market, but it’s particularly important when preparing the farm to allow employees to take time off. Making sure team members know how to do multiple jobs on the dairy can help the business handle short and extended leave taken by workers.

“You’re employees don’t need to be able to do everything,” Beesly explains. “Instead, spread the load by identifying a back-up team member for certain key tasks.”

Put Together a Policy

As with most things, it’s best to put together a policy when it comes to maternity leave. Beesley recommends business owners put a maternity leave policy in place even if they don’t meet FMLA requirements. “Whatever you decide, apply your policy consistently with no special favors for certain employees. Include your policy in employee handbooks and terms of employment,” she says. Beesley recommends considering the following guidelines (which follow the FMLA):

  • The employee has been in your employment for at least 12 months and works a regular work week (FMLA requires an average work week of around 24 hours to be eligible, although state policies often don’t require an hourly minimum).
  • The policy applies to both men and women to give them reasonable time to bond with the child (newborn, adopted or fostered).
  • The leave must be taken as a continuous block of leave.
  • Determine the amount of time off you wish to offer and whether it will be paid, unpaid or paid in part. FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks a year. State laws vary between 6-12 weeks.