Over the past few months, few topics have captured as much public and industry attention as paid parental leave. Pushed to the center stage by recent announcements from technology giants Netflix, Adobe and Spotify, as well as the many presidential debates, the idea of offering expecting parents paid time off after the birth of a child have come to dominate discussions about in-demand employee benefits for working parents.
Netflix, in fact, may now have one of the most expansive and inclusive parental leave policies in the nation. In August, the company announced on its blog that it would allow both new mothers and fathers to “take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.” After critics pointed out that the policy would not apply to Netflix’s hourly employees, many of who are employed in Netflix’s less profitable DVD division, the streaming giant backtracked a bit, revising its original policy to include more of the company’s employees.
Now, in addition to the 12 months of paid parental leave that salaried employees in the streaming division will be eligible to use, Netflix has extended paid parental leave to many of the company’s hourly employees. The amount of time an employee will be eligible to take will depend on which part of the company they work for, ranging from 12 weeks at full pay for employees in the DVD division to 16 weeks at full pay for employees in the streaming division.
It’s not hard to think why these policies are causing such a stir. As of now, US employers are not required by federal law to provide paid parental leave. This makes the United States only one of three other countries in the world that does not offer some sort of paid maternity leave. (The states of California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have all passed their own paid family leave laws).
Numerous families’ and workers’ rights groups have been outspoken regarding the benefits of offering paid parental leave. In the short term, paid parental leave has a positive impact on the health of both mother and child, providing new mothers with the time they need to recover, bond with their children and take them to necessary follow-up appointments and check-ups. And as the competition for top talent heats up, family-friendly benefits become even more crucial to a company’s recruiting strategy.
“No one is really arguing the benefit of parents spending time with their new child,” said Bonnie Scherry, director of Corporate HR for G&A Partners. “But policies like the one Netflix recently debuted are just not practical for every company, particularly for small and mid-size employers.”
Fortunately, Scherry says that paid parental leave isn’t the only in-demand family-friendly benefit highly skilled workers are looking for.
“Policies that allow employees to flex their schedules or work from home, if needed, are very appealing for working parents,” said Scherry. “It’s really tough for a parent to leave their sick toddler in someone else’s care when they’re crying for mom or dad. As a parent, it’s reassuring to know that if you need to stay home with your child, no matter how old he or she is, your employer is understanding and will let you have that time to care for your child.”
Flexible schedule and telecommuting policies also have the added benefit of applying to a wider group of employees, whereas paid parental leave only applies to employees with young families or who plan to start families soon.
Policies that apply to only a specific subset of an organization’s employee population are not just problematic from a company culture standpoint, but a regulatory compliance standpoint as well. As Valerie Samuels, a partner in the Boston-based law firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund and co-chair of its employment law group, pointed out in an article that ran on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website, “employees with disabilities may attempt to argue that it is unfair, and possibly unlawful, for Netflix to afford so much time off for parents while the company may not be as flexible with them.”
While not every company can afford to implement policies on par with the scale of Netflix’s paid parental leave policies, it is likely that more businesses will jump on the family-friendly employee benefits bandwagon in the coming months, and that it will continue to be a hot topic in 2016.