How do small startups manage family leave policy for their employees?

Hello Everyone, We are a small startup (<15 persons) and one of our employees’ partners is pregnant with their first baby. This is our first opportunity to establish a family leave policy for the company. I’m looking for advice or benchmarks on what similarly sized (seed stage/early series a) companies have done. I know this is a topic that has legal and cultural implications so I will take those into account before implementing anything. Just looking for resources or expertise at this point.


My personal opinion here (having worked at co.’s of all sizes and been the first parent at a lot of places) - this isn’t an area where benchmarking by company size feels right. That kid and the relationship established via leave matter just as much if you’re a small company vs. a large one. I know it’s tough because you may not have the financial runway, but doing the right thing is great.
Some practices I’ve seen that I appreciate (as the non-child-bearing member of the family):

  1. Some number of weeks that can be taken throughout their first year. For example, 12 weeks of paid leave divided up however they feel like it.
  2. A small support stipend for returning to work - meal service, gift certificate, something.
  3. Generally checking in and being supportive - asking them how they’re doing and if they need anything. (Amazing how little people do this if you’ve never gone through having/raising a child).

When I was at a Series A company and was the first new parent we didn’t have a leave policy. I (foolishly) said “I’ll take 2 weeks, that’s what most people do, right?” And our founders, who are incredible guys but didn’t know anything about having/raising kids said “Sure, that sounds great!” I deeply regretted not taking more time but was completely clueless myself.


We just set up our first leave policy and took a similar approach to what Adam describes. For context, we’re ~30 people. We found ourselves fairly limited by what we legally needed to put into the policy, so we ended up with our “legal” policy, as well as a version with friendlier language that tried to focus on the benefits vs all the language our HR firm required.We started off doing a session looking at all of the leave policies we really admire - both for countries (eg Iceland) and companies. There are things I’d like to change over time (eg making primary and secondary leave equivalent), but we felt like we landed on something that was supportive for employees and also manageable given our stage/size. It’s really helpful knowing that we have a kind of “gold standard” in mind re what we want those longer-term changes to be once we’re ready.In practice, we set up:

  • different leave for primary vs secondary caregivers, regardless of birth, adoption, foster, etc
  • for primary: 3 months “required”, with 2 additional months over the following 12
  • for secondary: 2 weeks “required”, with 6 additional weeks over the following 12 months. we made this initial period shorter because a lot of secondary caregivers gave feedback that they’d prefer to take time after the primary caregiver’s leave ended.
  • legally, we couldn’t make it required, but we’ve been telling people we strongly encourage them to take that initial period, and then use the additional leave in the way that works best for them
  • eligible for people who’ve been with the company at least 3 months full-time or part-time (we excluded temporary workers and interns)
  • obviously, with caveats that you have to work with your manager to set the leave up, make a coverage plan, etc.

The response has been good so far, but the one pain point is that (given our size), the flexible additional time has been kind of a challenge operationally. We’ve been able to set up good coverage plans for the initial longer periods (so far, we’ve had 2 people go out on parental leave, one a primary caregiver and one secondary), but the additional periods that people have taken end up kind of looking more like vacation, where we don’t necessarily have another clear person to take on their responsibilities. That’s one area I think we can definitely work on improving (and would love insights from anyone who implemented a similar approach!).


Don’t follow benchmarks. From my experience, most startups, from seed to C, don’t consider parental leave at all. Sometimes it’s 2 weeks, other times it’s a month, but in every case employees feel pressured to take less.
Being a parent is hard in a startup. I would try to be exceptional. Give them a few months. Make it mandatory. It’ll attract amazing talent, and you can feel good about doing the right thing.


Thank you for all the feedback. @PriyaVarma, thanks for all those specifics!

Two things usually overlooked: is their comp 100% while they are on leave? If not, what is it? Second: a “ramp up period” can be a great bridge for their return - the psychological cliff of fully returning to work following a full family leave can be substantial for some people - I know this from personal experience.


check out Cocoon!


Parento is doing something interesting where they’re making parental leave an insurance policy - so you have a constant cost per month that you pay


Thank you for the very very helpful and useful resources… :pray:

1 Like

Here’s a helpful resource for you @MariaWilson!
This article shares what 26 startups (many earlier stage) have set up