Family leave at small firms

By Anslee Wolfe

Small CPA firms that are not subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act still may wish to accommodate their employees’ needs. Here’s how small firms can provide support:

Permit flexible schedules with remote options. Sara Knoper, a CPA and tax manager, has taken two maternity leaves at Baker Holtz in Michigan, where she has worked for 11 years. She used personal time off and short-term disability for both. What stood out was how flexible the firm was with her schedule. "There was no pressure to come in if I wasn't feeling well," Knoper said.

Consider paid leave. When a senior bookkeeper at WSW needed to be away from the office for roughly two months to help with a daughter's medical condition, the firm reassigned some of her clients to make it possible, said Julia Johnson, director of operations for WSW, a 25-employee CPA firm in Nashville, Tenn. There were days the employee didn't work and others when she put in a few hours remotely. WSW continued paying her for 40 hours a week and didn't dock her PTO balance for the hours she was short. "We simply took care of her while she was taking care of her family," Johnson said.

Be compassionate. One day last year, Meagan DenOuden, CPA, called her employers at BNA, a CPA and advisory firm in Rock Hill, S.C., to say she needed time off for a serious illness that remains symptomatic. It was her second year with BNA, which has 26 employees. "They told me to take care of myself," she said. "Not having that extra stress of wondering if my job was still going to be there or not, that was the biggest blessing." At first, she took two weeks using PTO hours before returning to work. But she soon realized she needed more time to recover, so she took a month of medical leave using short-term disability. "My doctors were concerned with how my work was going to react, but the understanding I was shown was amazing," she said.

Offer support after leave ends. Sharon Trabbic, the COO at William Vaughan Co., a firm in Maumee, Ohio, suggests having a dedicated space at the office — with comfortable chairs and a separate storage refrigerator — where new moms can pump breast milk. Firms are required by law to provide a dedicated room for nursing mothers, though workplaces with fewer than 50 employees can be exempt if it is too difficult to provide the space.

Stay connected. While DenOuden was on medical leave, she often heard from co-workers. "It was definitely comforting knowing that I had people checking on me and ready for me to come back," she said. "I still felt like part of the team." Bernie Ackerman, CPA/PFS, CGMA, founder of BNA, kept in touch with DenOuden's mother and husband. "We truly believe our culture is family-oriented," Ackerman said, adding that it promotes extremely low turnover. "All our team members are concerned about each other."

Editor's note: This checklist is excerpted from "How Smaller CPA Firms Handle Family Leave," CPA Insider, April 29, 2019.

— By Anslee Wolfe, a freelance writer based in Colorado. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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