Creating Compiler's Parental Leave Policy

How a small, scrappy, California-based LLC created parental leave and wage replacement policies for its remote, multi-state team. By Shelby Miller

In early May 2021, I excitedly looked forward to joining the Compiler team as its third Managing Partner (and only parent) later that month. Vyki Englert, Compiler’s co-founder, and I have known each other since our early 20s and worked together previously at a data-sharing startup. During that time, I told myself “When Vyki inevitably starts her own company, I want to work with her there.” We talked many times before I officially committed to joining Compiler. I shared that my husband and I planned to add to our family, “hopefully soon-ish, but you never know how that’s going to go, and in my case, it may take a while for a pregnancy to stick.”

The week before I started the job, I bewilderedly looked down at two lines on a home pregnancy test; I was pregnant. Frankly, I didn’t believe it. Yes, my husband and I had started trying for a second baby. We were open to getting pregnant, but given prior experience, I was surprised that it happened so quickly. My thoughts went to the job I hadn’t even started yet at Compiler: this isn’t how I planned to start; Compiler doesn’t have parental leave. How are they going to take the news?!

The first 5 Compiler Employees stand side-by-side in front of a garden of pink flowers
Photograph by CM Creative.

Unsure if the pregnancy would last, I started the job and kept my pregnancy quiet. Weeks later, more confident that “yep, we’re having another baby,” I nervously told Vyki on a video call. Her response? “Whoa! You said you wanted another baby! Okay, your next major assignment is to write Compiler’s parental leave policy!” And thus began a two-year, eye-opening, mind-boggling, rewarding endeavor.

Compiler is a California-based LLC. By the end of 2021, it was only 5 employees large, thus not making it a “covered employer” under FMLA, the federal Family Medical Leave Act that is commonly, and incorrectly, thought to be how parental leave is provided to Americans. First, FMLA provides job-protected, unpaid wages. Not receiving wages is unacceptable for most people, so FMLA isn’t a solution. Second, “employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months” – oops, not me! And third, employees “work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.” Again, Compiler had 5 employees in three states, so FMLA would not extend to our employees for multiple reasons.

California is an employee-friendly state, perhaps the friendliest in the United States. It offers multiple benefits supporting new and growing families (more on these below), but as a Florida resident, California’s benefits do not extend to me. Understandably, they only extend to California residents.

Was short-term disability insurance (STDI) an option? For some birthing parents, yes, STDI is an option, though imperfect. STDI provides a percentage of wage replacement benefits. The claim process is cumbersome, especially when juggling responsibilities associated with a newborn. And only the birthing parent is eligible for the benefit. And, and! I was already pregnant, and thus, had a “pre-existing condition” that would not be covered under a new plan. COOL.

None of the above, established and “typical” benefits, worked for the situation Compiler faced. The company needed to create its own parental leave program from scratch and wanted to do so in a way that treated all of its employees, regardless of their residence, excellently and with dignity.

Like most folks starting a project they are novices in, I Googled. I read articles from Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center for American Progress, Think Babies, and even watched an episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on the topic of paid parental leave. SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management was a great resource for sample policies and language. I also read articles from California’s Employment Development Department because Compiler is a California-based LLC. I researched information to inform both the company’s future parental leave policy and the policy I’d be the first recipient of. The sheer volume of information, however, was overwhelming, especially for a small, young company with employees in multiple states.

Fortunately, Compiler is a member of a PEO (professional employer organization). I reached out to them, and they provided sample leave policies, guidance, and support, but frequently emphasized the importance of seeking legal counsel.

After reading multiple sample policies and language from SHRM, the PEO, and elsewhere, I took my favorite parts from each and patched them together to create Compiler’s first draft of a parental leave policy. Of highest importance was, and is:

There be no tenure requirement; leave and wage replacement be available immediately to all full-time employees

  • Offer the same parental leave benefits to everyone, regardless of where they live. Identify the state with the requirements friendliest to the employee, and apply them to all employees
  • Leave be at least 12 weeks long, the amount of time as the “fourth trimester”
  • Provide at least 50% of the employee’s regular wages during the course of the leave

There was a lot happening at Compiler leading up to my due date. Many spreadsheets and forecasts and models were created to estimate how much Compiler could afford to pay someone to be away from work for X, Y, or Z number of weeks. I felt tense. Compiler was a young company, and I feared Vyki was not yet totally bought into paid parental leave. She was understandably cautious about the financial impacts. I loosely dreamed of a lofty 3-6 month leave at 100% of my pay. I quietly presented that as one of several options the company could adopt, but ultimately, and understandably, we started more modestly.

A common decision-making criterion used at Compiler is “let’s not provide something that we eventually need to take back. It’s better to start small and grow outward.” So that’s what we did. In my case, I enjoyed a 12-week parental leave at 50% pay. Because I live in Florida, a state with no parental leave whatsoever, there were no state funds in addition to my 50% pay from Compiler, and as explained above, no STDI benefits to supplement, either. I was grateful for the 12 weeks and 50% pay, and motivated to increase that amount of time and percentage in the future.

Compiler and I verbally agreed to the above parental leave scenario, and I went on leave without an official parental leave policy being adopted. It wasn’t until April 2023, when Compiler had grown from five employees in three states to ten employees in five states, that we were reinvigorated to formally adopt a parental leave plan because a newer employee announced her pregnancy.

Shelby sitting on a bed, holding her newborn baby while her partner and other child reach out to touch the baby's hand
Photograph provided by Shelby Miller.

At this time, Compiler provided non-contributory (i.e. the company pays the premium) STDI to all employees. A reason for doing so was “this can help the birthing parent (and anyone else experiencing a short-term disability) with wage replacement in addition to what Compiler will pay as part of the parental leave because we know we can’t yet pay 100% of the employee’s wages.” All full-time employees receive non-contributory STDI and LTDI as soon as they’re hired – no tenure requirement. Do you see that’s a common theme for us? Waiting for benefits stinks.

The patched-together first draft of the parental leave policy was dusted off, and Compiler’s fourth Managing Partner, Scott Frazier (also a parent!), joined the effort to finalize the policy. In March 2023, we accomplished two major milestones: 1) the draft was shared with Compiler’s employees, along with an invitation to review and provide input, and 2) the draft was sent to Compiler’s California-based attorneys for their feedback.

Through the Spring and Summer, Scott and I traded emails and calls with the attorneys. They needed to know how many employees Compiler had in each state so they could determine which state requirements Compiler must legally abide by. It was determined that California’s policies were the most family- and employee-friendly and, therefore, all employees would receive those benefits. The way to do this was to create three separate policies, rather than one, so that Compiler’s policies mimicked the setup of California’s three policies (Pregnancy Disability Leave, California Family Rights Act, and Disability Insurance and/or Paid Family Leave).

Compiler’s three policies are:

  • Pregnancy Disability Leave and Accommodation
  • Parental Leave (AKA Baby Bonding Leave)
  • Wage Replacement During Pregnancy Disability Leave and/or Parental Bonding Leave (AKA Wage Replacement)

The three-policy approach was unexpected and unlike the sample policies I read and the drafts proposed. But in speaking with our attorneys, I began to understand the reasoning. The three policies complement one another, and when either of Compiler’s Leave policies are utilized by an employee, the Wage Replacement automatically kicks in.

After months of collaboration and revisions, guidance from Compiler’s attorneys, resources from our PEO, and a steady commitment to create a meaningful parental leave plan, Compiler’s first parental leave policies were officially adopted in September 2023.

Compiler’s work seeks to enable joyful and dignified lives. Through human-centered policy, we design services and solutions that are equitable and accessible. It is paramount to Compiler’s culture that these beliefs and actions be extended to employees in addition to our clients. We very much want to be a great place to work. We want people to feel cared for. We celebrate the “life” in “work-life balance,” whatever that might look like for our employees. For these reasons, it was clear the company needed to support its employees during enormous times of personal change – such as, welcoming a new baby or child into their family.

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