Pursuing the benefits of parental leave

Anna Gault Reynolds founded Reynolds Transfer & Storage in Madison in 1888. Five generations later, it’s likely she’d beam with pride knowing that the family business just made life a little easier on working families.

Reynolds is a 129-year-old heavy machinery hauler that also handles industrial moves and storage, as well as household goods and storage.

Natalie Evans serves as director of information services for the company that, she says, never had a parental leave policy in place — until now.

The daughter of president Tom Reynolds, Evans is due to deliver a baby in May and represents the company’s sixth (and possibly its 7th) generation. She worked for her family’s business previously before leaving for another job, adding that when she returned in April 2016 she did so with some honest trepidation. “My previous employer offered a great parental leave plan,” she notes, “but we didn’t have a policy in place here.” In fact, she says, the company has been contemplating the idea for two-and-a-half years.

Parental leave extends paid or unpaid leave to a working father, partner, or adoptive parent relating to the care of a child. Because the company has fewer than 50 employees it was not required under the federal Family Medical Leave Act passed by Congress in 1993 to offer enhanced benefits, but Evans said the company chose to go above and beyond the basics. Reynolds recently adopted a parental leave benefit that it hopes will help employee recruitment and retention and beef up its competitive advantage in hiring.

“In order to attract and retain employees we wanted to offer some sort of parental leave and we did some research on what would work best,” she notes. “We didn’t just want to offer lip service. We wanted it to be beneficial for our employees beyond just the minimum requirements.” Studies have proven that both babies and adults benefit physically and emotionally from extended care and bonding in a child’s first year.

In early discussions on the matter, little progressed, Evans admits. “We didn’t really have any impetus to roll the plan out.”

So she became the impetus.

Anna Gault Reynolds (in black dress behind trailer) founded Reynolds Transfer & Storage at 615 E. Mifflin St. (circa 1888).

“We’re family owned and this was important to me coming back to the company,” says Evans. “We had discussed it before but it kept falling off the table.”

Evans was instrumental in the plan’s implementation at Reynolds, which took effect Jan. 1. “We offer 12 weeks of maternal leave at two-thirds pay, and four weeks of parental (also considered partner or paternity) leave at two-thirds pay, plus continuing benefits in both cases.” In addition, a father or partner can stay home a full 12 weeks during the child’s first year, but eight of those weeks would be unpaid.

For Evans, keeping the parental leave policy separate from paid time off (PTO) or vacation time was an important distinction. “At my previous employer, I appreciated that parental leave was separate from PTO and vacation and sick days so you could extend your time away if you wanted to or needed to. That was a consideration for my return because I didn’t want to give that benefit up to come back to nothing.”

The plan is contingent upon an employee working at Reynolds for at least 12 months, although those months don’t need to be consecutive, meaning part-time workers may also benefit.

Based on Reynolds’ workforce, Evans estimates that only a couple of employees a year might take advantage of the new benefit. “The nature of our work allows us to fill in with seasonal help to help us cover for an employee. We can also find labor through a temporary agency.” Clearly, there will be an expense to the company but because the program just launched the financial impact remains unknown.

Several unions are represented at Reynolds but the benefit extends to all company employees regardless of affiliation. It was presented to staff at a recent company meeting and Evans says reaction has generally been positive. “I’m hoping to use it as a recruitment tool,” she states.



Absence of applicants

At the crux of the decision, though, is a general absence of workers. “We are having trouble hiring people,” Evans admits. “Part of that is because we’re an agent for United Van Lines, so for household goods moves we run on the authority of United Van Lines and must follow their regulations for hiring, which are pretty strict.”

But there’s a more basic issue, she says. “We’ve had the hardest time finding people with valid drivers licenses who are willing to do manual labor. We can’t have anyone drive our company vehicles if they have an OWI or DWI on their driving record. It’s an insurance company requirement.” It’s tough enough in the warmer months, when Reynolds hires seasonal employees, but winter is particularly challenging, she says, because people don’t want to work outside.

Hoping to expand its applicant pool, the company has been involved in local initiatives through United Way and other groups trying to introduce typically underemployed groups into the workforce. Evans also encourages women to apply. “We do have some women in the [more physical] jobs. In fact, some of our longest-term employees are female,” she says.

Evans says Reynolds Transfer & Storage has been discussing a more inclusive family leave policy, as well, “but we’ll start with this and see how it goes.”

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