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Why we offer paid parental leave benefits to our employees

For new or expectant parents, there is an understandable fear of the unknown.

The financial impact of taking time off of work can lead to stress during what should be a time for celebration. That stress can in turn affect life at home and performance at work.

That’s why, on Jan. 1, 2018, we implemented new family-friendly paid parental leave and adoption assistance benefits. These include:

  • Eight weeks of paid leave to the birth parent directly after the birth of a child
  • Four weeks of paid leave to non-birth parents, including those adopting a child – taken any time within 12 months of the birth or placement for adoption
  • No waiting period – employees don’t have to use vacation or any unpaid time first
  • Paid parental leave is available once per calendar year
BlueCross is a leading employer in the state when it comes to financial and emotional support for parents. 

Our action in this area was spurred by feedback we received from them directly – and it’s already making a difference in their lives.

Employees tell their stories 

BlueCross Courtney Case
Consumer Advisor Courtney Case, pictured with her son, 4-month-old Loftin, had a difficult pregnancy and delivery but found comfort in knowing she’d have plenty of paid time at home with her newborn.

Courtney Case was the first BlueCross employee to put these new benefits to use. Her son Loftin was born on January 1.

“My pregnancy was difficult,” Courtney says. “I went on short-term disability on November 27, and had been on FMLA [unpaid leave through the Federal Medical Leave Act] a lot before that. My doctors wanted me on bedrest much sooner, but I was concerned about having to take time out of my maternity leave before even giving birth and losing that precious time with my son.”

Though the benefits had not been formally instituted in late 2017, Courtney was contacted by human resources and told the parental leave would be changing.

It was like a weight lifted off of me; I sobbed on the phone when I heard the news  from Stacey [Haney, human resource services specialist],” Courtney recalls.

“She walked me through everything. And then Loftin arrived early; both of our lives were in jeopardy. He spent two weeks in the NICU, and I had to have a hysterectomy right after he was born. So I was starting my maternity leave and recovering from surgery, too.”

Though she was juggling a new baby, a recovery period and caring for her two other children, Courtney didn’t have to worry about two things: work and time.

“Even after his time in the NICU, we were able to return home and bond for six weeks,” Courtney says. “I rearranged my whole life, except for my career.”

“BlueCross didn’t just help me; they ensured my family was taken care of. We had everything we needed.”

Today Loftin is healthy and happy, weighing just under 16 pounds and sleeping through the night. “He’s a big ol’ baby,” Courtney says with a laugh. “And Stacey will forever have a place in our hearts.”

BlueCross Cristi and Sean Rance
Sean and Cristi Rance, both employees at BlueCross, are expecting their first child, due on Labor Day.

Even expecting employees like Cristi Rance are already seeing the benefits of the program.

Cristi, a provider service correspondent who’s due on Sept. 3, learned of the benefits a few weeks before she knew she was pregnant. She immediately signed up for the New Parent Class and Healthy Maternity Program offered by BlueCross.

“The benefits are amazing, but BlueCross is making the entire process easy for me and my husband, Sean, who also works here,” Cristi says. “The New Parent class tells you exactly who and when to call to ensure you receive the benefits, all of the paperwork that’s handled for you, what to do when you get to the hospital, etc.”

“A lot of companies can say, ‘We offer this benefit,’ but they don’t necessarily make it easily accessible.”

The paid time off lifted a lot of the pending financial burden off of the Rances.

“A baby brings a lot of added expenses, so right away, I was starting to plan,” Cristi says. “‘OK, this is how many weeks I think I can take off and be able to afford.’ We were looking at Sean’s time. And then I was just so happy to know that we didn’t have to budget as much as I thought originally, because I do get those eight weeks paid completely with all the benefits, still accruing PTO, still getting my health insurance, and he’ll receive the four paid weeks. That’s going to be a really good time for our family as a whole, and a huge stress relief.”

Cristi learned on her birthday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, that she and Sean are having a baby boy.

Why we made these changes

Improving parental leave benefits has been a recurring theme in our annual employee engagement surveys and during the company-wide Town Hall Q&A sessions with our executive team. Discussions about modifying our existing benefits began early in 2017, and senior management decided on changes to the benefit plan later that year.

From the outset of these discussions, BlueCross recognized the importance of representation for parents who are not actually delivering a child. 

“Non-birth parents should have the same opportunity as birthing parents to bond with their children,” says Karen Harris, human resources representative at BlueCross. “We made the decision to allow them to take four weeks of bonding with pay, rather than having to use all of their paid time off or go without pay in order to bond with their child.”

What these changes mean for our members

Ultimately, these benefits – in addition to the recent increase of our minimum wage pay to $15 an hour – will not only make a BlueCross a better place to work, but will result in better service for our members.

“If an employee doesn’t have to worry about their pay while on leave or worry about whether or not they can even take leave, we hope that they return to work inspired,” Karen says. “And we hope that inspiration will in turn shine through to our members.”

BlueCross expectant parents
Cristi and Courtney agree: better parental leave benefits result in better service for BlueCross members.

New and future moms Courtney and Cristi can attest to the inspiration factor.

“I’m not going anywhere, and one of the reasons why is that I was able to have my child and be taken care of by my company,” Courtney says. “When I came back, I could pick up the phone and maybe have a less-than-pleasant experience, but still stay super positive. BlueCross gave me that recharge and made me appreciate my job so much more.”

“If you know that your employer offers these benefits because they truly care about your wellbeing, mentally, physically, you’re going to respond well to that generosity,” Cristi adds. “Employees who feel valued and appreciated are going to go above and beyond to ensure everything gets taken care of for a member.”

About Jesse Thompson, Principal Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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