Coverage planning 101: How to prepare for parental leave

Jul 26, 2023

Building a parental leave coverage plan is one of our favorite topics to cover - so much so that we hosted a public workshop to share tips and tricks on how to do it successfully.

350+ HR leaders, expecting employees and those managing through leave signed up to join us…which tells us there’s a lot of curiosity around how to approach coverage planning.

Before we share high-level tips on coverage planning, there’s one key point anyone participating in the parental leave planning process needs to understand:

Building a coverage plan is simple, but NOT easy.

What do we mean by that?

It’s a complex and nuanced process, and every employee taking leave will have a completely different experience based on their unique circumstances: 

Coverage Planning 101 event - FINAL.pptx


Said differently: We coach thousands of employees through our parental leave programs, and no two situations (and therefore coverage plans) are ever the same.

So what ARE the right steps to take for successful coverage planning? 

Read on to learn the basics of coverage planning, and for answers to the most common questions we receive about preparing for parental leave.

Who is responsible for building a coverage plan?
In most cases, the expecting employees should drive the coverage planning for two specific reasons:

1. They’re closest to the details and can build a better plan because of it, and
2. It gives them agency in their career

Managers play a supporting role by sharing iterative feedback and providing guardrails and escalation, as needed.

What’s the right time to start building a coverage plan? 
As a rule of thumb, employees planning for leave should aim to begin 3-4 months in advance of leave. Starting too early is ineffective because they’ll lack visibility into your priorities, but wanting too long will cause problems for business continuity.

When is the appropriate timeline to have a coverage plan completed by?
We generally recommend completing a coverage plan four weeks before the parental leave start date. That doesn’t mean the employee shouldn’t work; it means the most important work should be off their plate in case the child comes early. 

Added bonus of winding down roughly a month before parental leave begins: It also actually frees them up to do more big thinking or contribute to - but not own - projects that didn’t take priority before.

Is there really a right or wrong way to build a coverage plan?
Yes! We addressed this in our workshop and shared a few anonymous examples of how coverage planning went wrong. These include: 

1. If the plan is too detailed and no one uses it, 
2. If it’s not detailed enough that key aspects weren’t addressed, and 
3. Assuming a backfill is the right solution without thinking through what bringing in a contractor actually entails. 

There’s SO much more to this and it’s a huge part of our pre-leave parental leave program. Drop us a note if you want to learn more.

How much is fair for the expecting employee to "manage up" when building coverage and return plans?
We get a little stuck on the word “fair” because the stakes are high for the employee preparing for parental leave. 

The expecting employee should drive the pre-leave plans so they can have agency in their careers, but part of the coverage planning process should absolutely include feedback and help from managers.

On the return side, there’s really not much an expecting employee can do on their own. Managers should drive this return-to-work experience by building a re-onboarding plan just as they would help onboard a new hire.

And finally, we’ll leave you with a video clip from the workshop: How should employees communicate with their manager about return-to-work plans?


Want to be the first to know the next time we hold another public coverage planning workshop?! Get on our email list and follow us on LinkedIn!