America's Top Employers Still Lag Far Behind On Basic Family Leave Policies

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While a number of major companies have made significant strides in providing paid family leave this year, and the benefits of these policies are widely reported, a majority of the U.S.’s top employers still lag far behind.

According to a new study by Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), a national nonprofit advocating for paid family leave, two-thirds of the country’s 60 biggest employers (so ranked by the number of U.S. employees) have either no paid leave policy, or refused to disclose their paid leave policy.

Only 27 of the 60 employers were able to confirm the existence of a formal leave policy, and only five companies offer policies with equal leave for both fathers and mothers, as well as for adoptive parents. Among the country’s top 60 employers, Amazon, Bank of America, Deloitte, and EY provide the most extensive family leave policies, offering 16 weeks or more of fully paid parental leave for mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. Coca-Cola also recently enhanced its policy to be gender-neutral, which impacts around 40,000 U.S. workers. Others such as Starbucks offer six weeks of maternity leave but no paternity leave.

Across the nation, more than 100 million employees have no access to paid family leave, and one in four new mothers goes back to work just 10 days after giving birth. Only 13% of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave, and that number drops to 6% for low-wage employees.

Furthermore, the PL+US study found that low-wage workers are often left out of family leave policies, though they are often the ones who need the financial support the most. For example, Walmart, the U.S.’s largest employer, confirmed that they provide paid leave to salaried employees, but not to hourly employees.

The Business Case For Paid Leave

An earlier study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 89% of business owners in California reported either positive or no negative effects on productivity after the state guaranteed six weeks of paid time off for new mothers. Furthermore, 93% agreed it had a positive or no negative impact on turnover, and 99% said the same about employee morale. At the same time, parental leave policies can help level the playing field for new moms and dads, and allow employees to return to work less stressed out and better rested, which ultimately works in the employer’s favor.

“The several months it would take to find a replacement, along with the cost of manpower to recruit and interview, heavily outweighs the cost of providing this benefit,” ZestFinance’s chief people officer, Sonya Merrill, told Fast Company earlier this year, shortly after the company extended its paid parental leave policy to six months.

The U.S. and Papua New Guinea currently remain the only industrialized nations in the world that don’t offer guaranteed paid leave of any kind, which was a key talking point for candidates of both major parties during the presidential election. President-elect Donald Trump proposed a policy that would offer six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers whose employers do not provide coverage, but some experts have suggested it will be up to employers to set the social policy standards in this deeply divided political landscape.

“What’s likely to happen in 2017, as more and more companies go down that path of setting what that standard is, it will set a de facto social policy,” Brian Kropp, the human resources practice leader for CEB, recently told Fast Company. Kropp explained that many have given up hope in the government stepping in to expand family leave policies nationwide, and are instead looking to private companies to take the matter into their own hands. “That will have a bigger impact on social policy than what government can accomplish in a dysfunctional Washington,” he said.

But with a majority of the U.S.’s top employers offering no leave, unbalanced policies, or refusing to disclose their family leave policies publicly, it’s difficult to remain hopeful that the private sector will move any quicker on the issue.

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