How To Ask About A Company's Parental Leave During A Job Interview

If you want to know how family-friendly a potential employer is, but you don't want to divulge too many details, here's how to get the info you need.

Because there is so much uncertainty in the family-building process, most of us don’t disclose a pregnancy or a potential adoption right away ― especially to a potential employer. We want privacy to figure out our schedule before making an official announcement. There’s also the unfortunate (and often valid) fear that a company may not be willing to hire you if you’re planning to go on leave. Legally, employers are prevented from practicing pregnancy discrimination in hiring, but practically speaking, it’s very challenging to prove such cases.

If you’re considering changing jobs or are currently looking for work, you’ll want to consider an organization’s parental leave policy when making your decision. But according to a survey taken by theSkimm, 60% of job seekers, most of them women, held back on asking questions about leave during their interview process.

HuffPost spoke to a number of employment experts about how to get the information you need without unnecessary risk. Here are some of their recommendations:

Do some internet sleuthing.

You may be able to find the answers to your questions without ever having to bring them up during an interview.

“I recommend no one apply for a job without first researching the company’s family and medical leave policy and practice,” Amy Beacom, founder and CEO of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership and a co-author of “The Parental Leave Playbook,” told HuffPost.

Every job candidate should look beyond salary ranges when considering a position. “Good companies spend an additional 30-40% on the benefits package,” Beacom explained. “If you give or plan to give care to anyone ― baby, sick relative, yourself, a parent — a strong family and medical leave benefit, combined with flexible work options, is a must.”

There are a number of places you can look online for this information. “Some companies will share this information publicly on their websites, or it can be found on ‘best places to work’ rankings or sites like The Muse, Fairygodboss, and Glassdoor,” career coach Becca Carnahan told HuffPost.

TheSkimm’s “Show Us Your Leave” campaign is another potential source of information. There, you can learn about the leave policies of more than 500 companies and organizations.

If you’ve been contacted by a recruiter, find the job listing on or LinkedIn. “If they are proud of their family-friendly status, they’re going to say so,” Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace, told HuffPost.

Some job candidates feel uncertain asking about benefits, but Ryan recommends that you push past this hesitation, given the far-reaching consequences of your decision.

“Taking a job actually has more impact on the person than on the company. Obviously, when someone takes a job, that’s 100% of their income,” she said. “It becomes part of their brand, and the job affects their mental health, their physical health, their relationships, etc. So they want to really vet that employer, check them out.”

You can ask about benefits without necessarily zeroing in on parental leave.
MoMo Productions via Getty Images
You can ask about benefits without necessarily zeroing in on parental leave.

Ask a more general question about benefits.

Asking directly about parental leave does send the message that you’re thinking about having a child. Again, employers aren’t allowed to use this information in their hiring decisions, but it would be extremely difficult to build a case that you were discriminated against. The company could simply say another candidate was better qualified.

Because asking directly could leave you vulnerable, attorney Daphne Delvaux told HuffPost, “I would suggest asking about parental leave within a larger discussion about benefits and time off.”

Delvaux offered the following phrasing: “I’m curious to hear more about the time off benefits the company provides. I know more and more companies in this industry are providing PTO, bereavement leave, time off to attend weddings of relatives, sick leave, parental leave, and other types of benefits.”

Another way of approaching the question could be via comparison. Carnahan suggested: “I saw that XYZ company was noted on People-First Jobs as a company with strong benefits in employee health and well-being and parental leave, which is fantastic. What has your company done differently to stand out in this way?”

If the company has a values statement on its website that mentions care for employees, you could also lead with that. Carnahan offered: “I see that employee care is an important value of the company, which really resonates with me. Could you share how that value is demonstrated within the organization?”

Yet another strategy could be to reference the pandemic. Beacom gave the following example: “Given the unpredictability of the last few years, I’d love to hear more about your family leave, sick leave and flexible work policies. What can you tell me about those? And if you’re willing, your own personal experience with them?”

It’s reasonable for you to expect a potential employer to be forthcoming about benefits and leaves. “If a company does not share information publicly or there is clear discomfort when faced with the question, that’s a red flag,” Carnahan said.

“You are also interviewing the company, and your time is valuable,” she said. “Ask questions throughout your research stage and interview stage so that you know if a company is aligned with your needs and values. No one wants to spend hours interviewing only to find at the end a company has no supportive structures in place.”

If someone tells you something like, “We have parental leave, but I was right back to work in a few week after our first child. There was too much to get done,” this too can be a red flag, Carnahan said. If there is a leave policy but most folks aren’t taking the allowed amount of leave, that tells you the company culture may not actually be family-friendly.

Ask for the employee handbook.

As you make your way up the ladder of the employment process, likely speaking first with a recruiter or a human resources screener and then your prospective manager, Ryan recommends that you ask for a copy of the employee handbook, or, if parts of it are protected property, at least the information about employee benefits. If they balk, that’s another warning sign.

“That’s going to lay out the parental leave, all various kinds of leave, all the benefits,” Ryan said. “That handbook is the window to the corporate soul, right? It tells you not just their policies, but how they are, how they think, how they view their relationship with their employees.”

Remember that job-seeking isn’t just about selling yourself. The company also needs to sell itself to you.

You're under no legal obligation to disclose any information about family planning.
Luis Alvarez via Getty Images
You're under no legal obligation to disclose any information about family planning.

Know your rights.

“An applicant has no legal obligation to volunteer information about having or wanting kids,” Delvaux said.

If someone asks you during the hiring process if you’re planning on having kids, Ryan suggests you say something vague about not having any specific plan, or leaving things up to the universe.

“Being a parent is not a protected class at work. However, if an employer asks if a candidate is a mother or has plans to have children, that can be an indicator of gender discrimination,” said Delvaux, noting that such questions are prohibited in some states, such as California, but not at the federal level. You would have to prove that you were denied the job due to gender discrimination, which would likely be a challenge. The frustration is that such questions are rarely asked of male candidates.

You’re in a better position as a pregnant employee than a pregnant candidate, Delvaux explained. “Whether it is pregnancy or having children or child care issues, the time to disclose that is after the job offer is signed. At that point, if the employer rescinds the job or gives you a hard time, it will be easy to prove a causation,” said Delvaux, who also recommended that you “disclose the information in writing.”

In terms of federal legislation when it comes to parental leave, the Family Medical Leave Act entitles workers to 12 weeks of unpaid leave “for specified family and medical reasons” including the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. You cannot be fired for taking this leave. Note, however, that FMLA only applies to employers that have more than 50 employees, and you need to have been with your employer for 12 months in order to use this benefit.

Know your comfort level.

In some cases, if you are confident in marketing yourself, you might decide to be upfront about something like family or child care plans.

You’re under no obligation, however, to make this kind of disclosure. It may not even make sense to do so, depending on your hiring process. If the people you are interviewing with are from an outside firm and will not be your direct supervisors, it would probably make more sense to hold off on making such a statement.

“I would suggest never disclosing any plans to build a family. Not only is this too speculative and uncertain, it would essentially be giving an employer an opportunity to preemptively discriminate against you,” Delvaux said. Unless you need time off to pursue fertility treatments, she recommended waiting until you are pregnant to tell your employer.

“If you’re pregnant now, or if you’re in the adoption process and this child could arrive before a year, you do not have to say you’re pregnant, of course,” Ryan said. You can wait to see if you get the job offer, and then tell your employer when you’re ready. Keep in mind, however, that you may not be eligible for paid or job-protected leave until after you reach a certain number of months with the company ― as with the FMLA benefits, which kick in after one year.

Until it is required for companies to describe their leave benefits in job postings, Beacom believes it’s important for candidates of all ages and gender identities to ask about leave.

“This has the added benefit of helping companies confront their unconscious bias that leave policy is only about women of a certain age,” she said. “A company’s parental leave policy speaks volumes about the work culture, and whether that company is a human-friendly place to work for all employees.”

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