On workplace calendars throughout the U.S., it's not just autumn; it's also the start of open enrollment season. Sallie Mae — the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company — is marking open enrollment season this year with a new, more flexible parental leave benefit that will offer as much as 12 weeks of leave at full pay for employees who are new or adoptive parents.

The new benefit covers babies born by the biological mother or a surrogate, and adopted children age 5 or younger. For a primary caregiver — the person with responsibility for caring for the child a majority of the time immediately following the child's birth or adoption — the new benefit is 12 weeks of paid leave. The benefit for the secondary caregiver is four weeks of paid leave.

Sallie Mae employees with six months of service who work at least 24 hours per week are eligible for the new benefit, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016. Employees on parental leave continue to be eligible to participate in the company's other employee benefit programs, and all benefit elections and contributions remain in effect. The company's parental leave benefit runs concurrently with any short-term disability or Family Medical Leave Act benefits for which an employee may be eligible.

"Just as we work hard every day to help millions of families save, plan, and pay for college, we are also committed to supporting the members of our own Sallie Mae family with meaningful, competitive benefit plans," said Bonnie Beasley, chief human resources officer, Sallie Mae. "The bonds parents establish with their newborns or newly adopted children set the stage for a lifetime of wellbeing, and we believe our new parental leave policy makes it easier for Sallie Mae employees, regardless of gender, to build strong foundations as they start or grow their families."

Parental leave benefits have been shown to increase employee satisfaction, reduce turnover, and aid in recruitment, but their use is not widespread. According to the " 2016 Employee Benefits" survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, only 26 percent of employers offer paid maternity leave beyond what is covered by short-term disability or state law; only 21 percent offer paid paternity leave; and only 20 percent offer paid adoption leave. The " National Compensation Survey," published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in March 2015, found that only 13 percent of U.S. workers had access to paid family leave benefits.

Sallie Mae has more than 1,200 employees in the U.S., including more than 750 at its headquarters in Newark, Delaware. In addition to the expanded paid parental leave, the company offers a robust employee benefits program that features paid leave; medical, dental, and vision care; a company-matched 401(k) plan; an employee stock purchase plan; tuition reimbursement; and family scholarships for college.

For more information about careers at Sallie Mae, visit SallieMae.com/about/careers. For more information about saving, planning, and paying for college, visit SallieMae.com.

Sallie Mae (NASDAQ: SLM) is the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail banking. Learn more at SallieMae.com. Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

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