The Ferrara factory in Forest Park. (File)

Sandi Santa Ana didn’t like Ferrara Candy Co.’s family leave policy. So she sweetened the offering. 

After giving birth to her second son, Santa Ana reflected on her employer’s parental leave policy and wasn’t surprised to learn the more than 100-year-old candy firm offered just the federal minimum, said Santa Ana, director of sales strategy and customer marketing. Under federal policy, new moms receive regular short-term disability pay of 60 percent of their salaries for six to eight weeks. They then have the option to continue to take unpaid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) for up to 90 days.

“New dads, it was basically find the time on your own,” said Mike Goldwasser, Ferrara’s chief human resources officer. New dads are also eligible for unpaid leave under FMLA.

Santa Ana talked with coworkers about Ferrara’s family leave policy about what, if anything, they could do to reform the offering. Feeling empowered after the company gifted her and another coworker $1,000 to remake the maternity room at Ferrara’s Oak Brook headquarters, they decided to approach Goldwasser about the policy, and he advised them to do their research. Goldwasser said he felt excited about expanding the candy company’s policy, but wanted to know about Ferrara’s competitors and what they offered. 

“They pointed to other companies we believe we’re competing with for talent. Looking at what they do, we said, ‘Wow there’s an opportunity for us to improve,'” Goldwasser said.

Santa Ana and other coworkers talked to their friends at nine other firms — The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods, Johnson & Johnson and more — to figure out how companies structured their family leave policy. They weren’t surprised to find that Ferrara had one of the least generous offers.

“The one really cool thing about our company is they always tell you to act like a business owner,” Santa Ana said. “When we think about the way our culture has shifted and the amount of working moms, it’s really important to support them. We never want someone to think they need to have a different career after they have kids.”

The two organized the data points they found across the companies to produce a Powerpoint for Goldwasser, outlining where Ferrara currently fell on its support of working families.

“We showed him here’s where we currently fall on the spectrum. When we think about all the things, where we want to go in the future, it sounds like we want to move to this end of the spectrum,” she said.

Goldwasser put the human resources department on the case and, at the beginning of the January 2017, Ferrara unveiled its updated policy.

Now, new parents receive full pay for two weeks after their child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement, which they’re allowed to take off at any point within six months of the child’s arrival. New moms also receive 100 percent of their pay for the period of time they receive disability. They can then choose to take unpaid FMLA leave. Also under the new policy, Ferrara lets new parents — both mom and dad — work part-time for their first two weeks back at work, so they can reacclimate to the office, factory, research-and-design facility and more.

Ferrara’s new policy applies to all of its 2,700 U.S. employees, whether they work at the manufacturing plant Forest Park, research-and-development center in Maywood or at the company headquarters in Oak Brook. Santa Ana also added that Ferrara employees are offered job security during their leave, which wasn’t the case at every company she studied. 

“I just think it’s more progressive,” she said of Ferrara’s new policy.  

While the new company leave policy doesn’t rival those of Europe, where she said some parents are guaranteed their first year off, she said it’s infinitely better than the old policy, and that dozens of employees have already taken leave. Goldwasser didn’t have an exact number of employees who have since taken advantage of the new policy, but said the majority have been from the factory side in Forest Park and Bellwood.

“Something that can be terrific, a blessing, can also be potentially disruptive financially,” Goldwasser said. “This is one small way we can support our employees, and ensure our environment meets the new baby and new part of the family’s needs.”