Embrace the revolution, workers of America, because parental leave has just hit a milestone. Earlier this week, the online handmade marketplace Etsy (ETSY) - Get Report announced that it would extend leave for new mothers and fathers up to half-a-year, one of the most generous benefits package of any company in the United States.
The United States is increasingly alone in the world for not requiring some form of paid parental or maternity leave. In fact, by 2015 only nine countries have no laws on the books about this, with America trailing such bastions of human rights as North Korea, Vanuatu and (believe it or not) Somalia. (For a sense of just how alone we are in the world, click through here to see NPR’s map on the subject.)
Of course, global statistics on this issue should be taken with a grain of salt, since it’s common for many countries to pass sweeping legislation that they have no intention or ability to enforce.
Still, parental leave remains a massive concern for workers in this country. Only a little more than one in ten U.S. workers have paid parental leave according to senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute Alice Gould -- the benefit is broken down heavily by economic strata.
Among the top 10% of wage earners, about one-quarter get paid time off for a child, while only 4% do at the bottom. The less money you make, it turns out, the less protection you have against the economic calamity of… having a baby?
For the overwhelming majority of workers, a birth means scrimping and saving, carefully hoarding vacation and sick days in advance of the due date so that the mother can take some time to recuperate and the father might get to see his newborn child. Once those days are used up, some new parents take advantage of the unpaid leave guaranteed by the Family Medical Leave Act but, as Gould argued, how many families can actually afford weeks and weeks of lost income?
“People try to store up their sick leave or any vacation time, and then they kind of use it all up so they can spend more time with their newborn or with their adopted child,” she said. “And that’s how people make do. Many people go back to work before they want to, because they simply can’t afford to do without their wage earning.”
Men in particular, Gould says, “aren’t taking the unpaid leave that they’re given, because families can’t afford to live without their income”
The availability of paid leave at the top has become an increasing trend, said economist Eileen Applebaum with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, because increasingly young workers are making it a priority in their career decisions.
“Today, men as well as women want to be more involved in their children’s lives,” she told MainStreet. “Employers know this, and those that are competing for high-priced talent or have deep pockets have begun to provide this as an employee benefit. They find that it improves their attractiveness and ability to hire and increases retention of workers already on staff.”
And that’s great, for anyone competitive enough to attract that kind of benefits package. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much further down the economic chain, such as the 94% of service industry workers who get no paid leave of any kind.
About half of them don’t even get vacation days to save up in advance.
Part of the reason for this is that parental leave is simply an expensive benefit to provide. It requires an employer to not only work around long gaps in its workforce, but also to keep on paying the absent employee while also finding someone else to do his or her job. Studies have shown that countries that require generous parental leave policies see a noticeable jump in hiring discrimination by employers looking to avoid the risk of bringing on a young newlywed who may become, in the employer's eyes, a liability. By one estimate, 54,000 women lose jobs or seniority in Britain alone each year due to taking maternity leave.
“[Paid leave] policies have a positive effect on career prospects of young people and women,” Applebaum said. “When employers implement paid parental leave it is to encourage loyalty, align the values of the company with those of its employees and improve retention. Employers find that such policies are an effective way to do this.”
“However, it can be quite expensive for an individual employer to provide paid parental or family leave," she said. "A hospital that employs a large number of young women as nurses and nurse aides would be unlikely to be able to afford paid parental or family leave. A steel mill, with a mainly older male workforce would not have the same problem.”
Some suggest that an effective way to combat this would be to enforce parental, as opposed to maternity, leave. This would eliminate the gender gap and force employers to treat workers as equals across the board.
Applebaum, however, suggests a program of state sponsored insurance to lift the burden of cost from employers and spread it out evenly across a workforce that does, after all, benefit as a whole from having children brought into the world.
For example in New Jersey, Applebaum argued, six weeks of paid leave costs about 70 cents per week to cover.
In the meantime, we’ll make do with the system we’ve got. Paid leave is an entirely voluntary benefit paid for by companies that choose. For you job seekers or prospective parents out there who value paid parental leave the most, here are the seven most generous policies in America:
Paid parental leave for both parents for up to one year after birth or adoption. This is officially (and by far) the most generous policy in America. Netflix’s announcement said that employees will continue to get paid as normal, and can take as little or as much time off with in the first year as they like. Not long ago, Richard Branson announced something similar at Virgin… until it turned out to apply to approximately 140 of his 50,000 employees.
Netflix’s policy only applies to “salaried streaming employees,” so according to one estimate by NPR, it will not apply to roughly 400 to 500 of the company's 2,300 full and part time workers.
Starting in April, Etsy will give new parents -- both male and female -- up to six months of paid parental leave. Etsy is also going to offer new adoption and surrogacy benefits along with coaching programs for new parents and their managers. Prior to this change, Etsy only offered 12 weeks to primary caregivers and 5 weeks to secondary caregivers.
The search giant provides paid leave for birth mothers up to 18 weeks and 12 weeks for both parents. Fathers can get 18 weeks if they are the “primary caregiver.”
Google has made a name for itself with its generous perks over at the Googleplex. This policy is no different, making it an attractive option for young techies looking to put their best foot forward.
4. DLA Piper
Both parents get 16 weeks of paid leave.
Almost every entry on this list is a tech firm, with this one exception. The law firm of DLA Piper has a generous maternity and paternity policy, which is surprising in the still frattish culture of big law. (Runner up firm Orrick offers 22 weeks of maternity leave but nothing for the dads.)
The social network provides paid parental leave for 17 weeks, which both parents can use in a block or spread out over one year after birth or adoption.
It’s possible that tech companies are particularly generous, because they tend to be run by younger executives, who are either considering families themselves or have friends doing so (Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla, are currently expecting). Either way, four months is a solid amount of time to take off.
Both parents can take 16 weeks off during the first year after birth or adoption, either in one block or intervals.
The company offers paid leave for up to 20 weeks for birth mothers, and 10 weeks for all other parents.
Twitter’s policy is heavily weighted toward birth mothers, an artifact in part driven by federal law which requires parental leave to be shared equally when it’s not based on medical and recovery time issues.
All parents get 12 weeks of paid leave, and birth mothers get 20 with an additional option of taking two weeks off on short-term disability before the due date.
This is a new policy which takes effect on November 1 of this year, catching the OS behemoth up with its peers in the tech world.