Hannaford Supermarkets is responding to the tight labor market and the wishes of its employees by implementing a paid parental leave policy for all workers who average at least 30 hours per week on the job.

The policy, which will take effect Sunday, offers six weeks of leave at full pay to all new parents during the first year following the birth, adoption or legal placement of a child. To be eligible, employees must have worked an average of 30 or more hours per week at Hannaford for at least a full year.

Hannaford Supermarkets is offering six weeks of paid parental leave to employees starting next week. The company, Maine’s second-largest employer, said it is responding to employee feedback and hoping the policy will help it attract and retain employees. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With nearly 10,000 employees in the state, Hannaford is Maine’s second-largest employer after health care system MaineHealth. Hannaford said that, based on a rough estimate, at least half of its workforce will be eligible immediately for the paid parental leave benefit.

Most paid parental leave policies in the retail industry only apply to full-time workers, although the required number of hours per week varies by employer. Walmart, for example, offers six weeks of paid parental leave to its full-time workers, which the company generally defines as those averaging at least 34 hours per week on the job.

Walmart, Maine’s third-largest employer, began offering paid parental leave in February 2018. Retailer L.L. Bean, Maine’s fifth-largest employer, implemented a similar paid parental leave policy in January 2018. Like at Hannaford, L.L. Bean’s policy also applies to all year-round employees working at least 30 hours per week.

Hannaford Vice President of Human Resources Margo Peffer said the supermarket chain is responding to a recent employee survey that generated “strong feedback from associates” who wanted a paid leave policy covering all new parents, regardless of their gender or gender identity.

“A really strong theme that came out of that feedback is that they would appreciate more support,” Peffer said. “There’s a lot of working parents out there, and they would appreciate more support in terms of parental leave. There were some local dads in there, as well, that have said, ‘Hey, I really take pride in being a parent, as well,’ and we really haven’t in the past offered anything to non-birthing parents.”

Like most employers in Maine, Hannaford has faced challenges attracting and retaining employees as a result of the state’s stagnant workforce and an unprecedented period of extremely low unemployment. Maine’s unemployment rate has been below 4 percent for 43 consecutive months, the longest period on record.

Peffer said Hannaford’s strategy to overcome the workforce challenge is to create employee policies that are as flexible and inclusive as possible. The idea is that once employees have a chance to learn about Hannaford’s positive work environment and policies, they will see the value in working there compared with other jobs that offer similar pay, she said.

“Unemployment has been really low, which has put a lot of pressure on our ability to attract talent, and what we’re really trying to focus on is creating that inclusive environment inside of the store,” Peffer said. “We want to make sure we live up to what it means to be an inclusive employer, day in and day out, and how we extend our care and support to our associates is really important to us.”

According to a 2018 employee absence and disability management survey by New York-based consulting firm Mercer, at least 40 percent of employers nationwide now offer paid parental leave to non-birthing parents, up from 25 percent in 2015.

Other large employers in Maine that have implemented paid parental leave policies in recent years include Wex Inc. and Unum Group.

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