Why You Shouldn't Try To Match Yahoo's Fabulous New Maternity Leave Policy
After Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer caught all sorts of flack over her no telecommuting policy, she has seemingly done a 180 on the warm and fuzzy family-friendly scale with a new maternity leave policy that is, by all accounts, awesome for an American business. New moms who give birth themselves get 16 weeks of paid leave with benefits. New dads get eight weeks paid paternity leave. If you adopt or foster, both mom and dad are eligible for eight weeks paid leave. In addition to leave, new parents receive $500 for things such as house cleaning.
All of this sounds awesome and it brings Yahoo more in line with its direct talent competitors, Google and Facebook, but it's not what you need to do for your business. Here's why.
You're not a big company. Yahoo has around 14,000 employees. This means that, by definition, they have lot of people to cover for people out on leave. When you have 50 people in the accounting department, having one or even two out on leave can still be manageable. When you have one person who does the accounting, payroll, and manages the office, you'll have a much more difficult time covering if she's out.
You need to compete on your strengths. What can you offer your employees that Yahoo can't? Well, I don't know, but you do. Do you allow more flexible schedules? Can you offer new parents the ability to telecommute for an extended time period? What about a four day work week? The ability to go to the daycare/babysitter a couple times a day to nurse the baby? What about the ability to work on many aspects of a project? What about ownership in the company? What about developmental opportunities?
You can ask directly what people need. Under the law you have to treat pregnancy/childbirth like you do any other disability. But, when you're small you can also do what needs to be done, rather than make a blanket policy. The key words are "reasonable accommodation." While telecommuting is not reasonable for a receptionist, lest there be no one to greet customers, it can be reasonable for a marketing director who works mostly on the computer and the phone.
Think about your long term. Most women have two children. This means that even if your fantastic employee has a baby this year and another in two years, she'll most likely be done after that. By allowing flexibility and support with the babies, you may well increase your chances of keeping her for the longer term. Additionally, when people see how you treat new parents, it makes them feel more positive towards your business even if no children are on their horizon.
Think about your other employees as well. If you offer 16 weeks paid maternity leave to your employees and don't have an accommodation for the people still at the office, any good will you gain will be lost, as your remaining employees suffer under the crushing workload. You must take into consideration the effect on the whole officwhen crafting your policy.
Make sure you're complying with all laws--including local ones. Even the fabulous Yahoo policy, as stated in all the news reports, violates federal law, as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to offer 12 weeks of leave (unpaid or paid) to mothers and fathers. Now, I'm sure Yahoo is actually in compliance with these laws (and if not, the entire HR department should be kicked unceremoniously to the curb), but make sure your "fabulous" policies actually follow the law. FMLA doesn't kick in until you hit 50 employees, but local and state laws may affect a smaller company.
Money doesn't grow on trees. While all small business owners would love to make decisions based purely on what makes everyone most fulfilled, the reality is, small businesses often have small margins. You need to think about what you can actually afford when you craft your policy.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.