October 14, 2019
#Startup Life: Defining a Parental Leave Policy

Blog post originally written for Moms on Maternity, a community supporting modern parenting.

By Miriam Williams and Tara Elwell Henning 

The startup environment requires constant and ruthless prioritization, and in most early stage startups, parental leave policies aren’t implemented until the need arises. This means that expectant moms and dads often find themselves in a unique position: the first person at your startup to have a baby. As if things aren’t hectic enough, you’re acutely aware that your decisions may impact the new parents that come after you. We’ve *literally* been there – so we’ve put together a step-by-step approach to help you get it done, regardless if your company even has an HR department yet!



Many executives are looking to do “the right thing” but aren’t certain what that might be. In addition to knowing your state and federal rights, providing benefits benchmarks is crucial to establishing a policy that is perceived as fair, generous, or even best in class. 

Federal laws: The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, is a federal program that guarantees your job – unpaid – for 12 weeks after baby. 

State laws & Short Term Disability Insurance: Eight states and D.C ( California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Oregon and D.C.) have additional laws to support families, including short term disability insurance that allows you to receive a portion of your salary while you’re on leave. Many progressive companies complete the gap. For example, if CA law covers 45% of your salary, a company may want to offer coverage of the remaining 55%. 

Benchmarks: Many companies go above and beyond what is legally required. Both Glassdoor and Fairygodboss offer visibility to the leave policies of major corporations. Consider not just the length of time, but what portion of your leave might be paid, or can be taken unpaid. 

This stage is also a great time to remind the leadership team that parental leave policies are an amazing recruitment and retention tool. 


Whether or not you’re in HR or the legal department, this is an all hands on deck kind of situation. You can find examples on Workable and SHRM


While we all love a onesie with the company logo, we love some even more powerful ways to show support for the growing families.

Make food preparation easier: A gift card to Blue Apron, Doordash or Uber Eats.

Ease back to work with a 4-day work week for the first month. 

Drop-in or emergency child care benefits can take some stress off two-income households when unplanned issues arise with childcare providers.

Institute flexible work policies including Work From Home, ensuring that all meetings take place between core work hours of 9 to 4.

For jobs that require travel, consider a partnership with Milk Stork.


We love the stories of new fathers Alexis Ohanian (Reddit co-founder, married to Serena Williams) and Adam Rhuberg (Director of Analytics, UpWork), acknowledging that family leave is essential for both parents … and confirming that both parents share and enjoy childcare duties. Remind your male colleagues that taking their full parental leave sets a positive precedent for others in the company who might want or need the support.