How to support working parents without deprioritizing the team

Protection from discrimination, accommodations for health conditions, extended leave, and flexible scheduling benefit all employees, including working parents.

By Emily Singler

With all the talk about what working parents need to thrive in the workplace, it’s easy to wonder: What about everyone else?  

What about those who can’t have children, who don’t want to have children, or who are no longer in the child-raising phase of life?  

The appearance of an employer offering benefits and protections to some members of the team but not others can be hard to justify. Let’s look at some of the ways employers can support working parents that can (or should) benefit the whole team.  

Reasonable accommodations and protection from discrimination 

Pregnant individuals might need to avoid heavy lifting or working a lot of night shifts. Those with complications like hypertension may need to work fewer hours or even stop working temporarily.  

Breastfeeding personnel will need to have regularly scheduled pump breaks throughout their day. And employees with any of these needs cannot be discriminated against for requesting accommodations.  

Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal laws, the same protections apply to other employees with health conditions that meet the criteria of a disability or that a healthcare provider has determined to require accommodations.  

Parental leave as part of family leave 

Parental leave allows parents of newly born or newly adopted children time to heal from childbirth, care for their new child, and take time to bond as they begin to navigate their new life together.  

This type of leave can be extended to others in the workplace who may not have childcaring responsibilities, including those who are pursuing adoption or fertility treatments, those who have suffered a pregnancy loss, and those who pursue pregnancy termination.  

Parental leave is also part of a larger umbrella term called family leave (sometimes also called caregiver leave). For eligible employees, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) treats parental leave the same as leave to care for other family members who are facing serious illness or injury, as well as leave for workers who are themselves seriously ill or injured.  

Whether it is for parental leave or other family leave, the FMLA does not mandate that any of the leave be paid. FMLA entitles eligible employees to unpaid, job-protected leave with continuation of group health insurance coverage, so, it is often up to the employers to offer paid leave unless the workplace is in a state or city that provides paid leave.  

Some employers offer short-term disability insurance to cover a portion of parental leave for birthing parents. This insurance can be used by other employees as well to cover a variety of illnesses and injuries. 

Keeping the workload manageable 

In addition to expanding parental leave to cover other family and caregiver needs, employers can find ways to minimize the effects that the absence of any individual during their leave has on the rest of the team. If one person being out on leave leads to more work for everyone else, it’s easy to see how some resentment could build, even if it’s not directed at the individual taking leave.  

Ways to reduce the stress on the rest of the team include:  

  • Hiring relief help 
  • Asking for volunteers to work extra paid hours (some people may want the extra money) 
  • Putting some projects on hold during the individual’s leave 
  • Modifying the appointment schedule to accommodate the available staff  

Flexible scheduling 

Parents sometimes need to modify their work schedule to accommodate their caregiving needs. But employees without children to care for can have plenty of other reasons to need the same thing. Flexible scheduling should consider the needs of all members of the team to the extent possible.  

This may mean taking turns working weekends or holidays and covering for each other when one person needs to miss work. Workplaces can acknowledge that all team members’ needs outside of work are important by being open to requests from all employees and not requiring justification for their requests.  

Making statements like, “Dr. A has kids, so they get priority to have Christmas off,” without considering the needs of other staff members is short-sighted.  

Not all of us will need or utilize all these benefits. But what we do all need to is to keep as many dedicated, talented veterinary professionals in the field as possible. Making our industry as sustainable will require, among other things, being aware and respectful of the needs of our colleagues, even if they are different from our own.  

In the long run, we will all benefit in some way from having the same consideration we extend to working parents available to each of us in our time of need.  

 Further reading 

How to Empower and Support Working Parents: Challenges and Examples 

New Study Proves Supporting Working Parents is Good for Business 

Four Enticing Benefits to Support Working Parents in Your Company 


Emily Singler, VMD, is AAHA’s Veterinary Content Specialist and author of Pregnancy and Postpartum Considerations for the Veterinary Team. 

  Cover photo credit: © ArtyCool E+ via Getty Images Plus 

 Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 




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