Paid Parental Leave: U.S. Policies Are Changing

by | Apr 10, 2019 | Business, Employee Benefits

Currently, U.S. law does not require paid parental leave of any kind. At this time, forty-one nations guarantee their citizens paid parental leave to care for and bond with a new child. Sadly, the United States is not one of them. In fact, the U.S. ranks dead last in providing protected, paid leave for mothers of newborns. And time off for fathers? Zero. More than half of the 38 Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations provide some type of paid time off benefit for them, but unfortunately, the United States is not among them.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates that companies with more than 50 employees provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, it does not require paid leave. While legislation might not provide for parental leave at the moment, some employer perspectives and intentions are beginning to change, especially as they compete for talent.

In the trenches of the day-to-day challenges in the race for the best employees, creating benefits packages that entice top performers to accept job offers and stay on the job, once onboard are becoming critical tactics. Recent parental leave policy changes made by Netflix and Microsoft support this. Netflix set a new standard, allowing unlimited paid parental leave in the year following the birth or adoption of a child. Additionally, Microsoft announced their new policy that enriches the current policy to 12 weeks of full pay for both mothers and fathers.

Moving the conversation from “work-life balance benefits” to “work-life integration benefits” positively affects not just today’s employees, but the children of today’s employees… tomorrow’s workforce! By making sure that children born to working parents today have ample time to bond and thrive in their earliest days, we are helping to ensure children and parents are more emotionally healthy.

Employers Currently on Board

Employers committed to creating cultures that value employees as “people” with families and full lives outside of their jobs are creating benefits packages that meet the specific needs of their workforces. And now, since the majority of the workforce mainly consists of Millennials, parental leave benefits - paid parental leave benefits in particular - are becoming more important to more employees, male and female.

Employers like Netflix, Microsoft, and even the U.S. Navy, are ahead of the curve in the United States in proving expansive paid leave for new parents. However, the provision of parental leave is just half the battle.

The biggest hurdles facing the adaptation of “parental” instead of “maternity” leave is men’s fear of being penalized for taking time off to care for newborns and newly adopted children, just as they perceive women have taken significant compensation and career advancement penalties when accessing these benefits.

In fact, men are now facing the consequences of prioritizing family over jobs and careers just as women have, since they joined the world of work in droves in the mid-20th century. In cases where employers have instituted paid parental leave policies for men as well as women, we find that men take a fraction of the time available to them. The social stigma that has attached to child rearing for women appears to be attaching even more strongly to men.

What The Future Holds

The good news is that companies of all shapes and sizes are starting to pave the way for all parents, allowing them to put the health and well-being of their families ahead of their jobs. More employers are expanding paid maternity leave benefits and, in a growing number of cases, creating both paid and unpaid parental leave policies that include both parents. These forward-thinkers realize benefits such as these will reduce turnover, increase engagement, and create a culture that propels stronger employee well-being.

As for U.S. legislation on this mandate, it’s gaining substantial traction this year. States such as Vermont, Oregon, Connecticut, Colorado, and California are pushing for legislative priority on the issue, which is an encouraging step for passing the bill into law.

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