The US is the only industrialized country without a national, paid family leave policy. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides legal protection for up to 12 weeks of leave each year related to family or medical needs, such as caring for a newborn, this leave is unpaid. As a result, only 14% of the US workforce has access to employer-sponsored paid leave.
Some states do have their own paid leave requirements: California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia all have state-mandated paid leave plans that offer varying degrees of wage reimbursement to parents. For most Americans, however, any access to paid leave is entirely at the discretion of employers. Policies vary widely, and top talent is increasingly using these policies as a factor in their job search.
Many candidates I place – both men and women – ask about a company’s parental leave policy before the interview. For these mid-career candidates, benefits like paid leave, remote work opportunities, and flex hours have become almost as important base salary. These are talented, high-performing professionals. They’re looking to join companies where they can grow their career and receive support for their whole working life– children included. Even if the possibility of children is in the distant future, candidates want to be sure that the company they choose will be the right fit for them today and tomorrow.
What are Parental Leave Policies in Other Countries?
A 2019 OECD review of 41 industrialized countries found the US ranked last for government-mandated paid leave: zero hours. At the top was Estonia, offering more than a year and a half of paid leave to new parents. Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Japan, Slovakia and Slovenia all offer over a year.
While paid leave is dominated by mother’s leave, more countries are offering dedicate paid leave for fathers. Leave specifically for fathers is now available in 34 of the 41 countries OECD surveyed, with countries like Japan and Korea offering around 15 weeks paid. Many of these countries also offer universal daycare programs for young children, or may even subsidize nanny costs, making it easier for parents to return to work when their leave is up.
Beyond FMLA: Companies Setting a New Standard
A growing number of tech companies and the Fortune 500 are updating their policies to offer longer paid leave periods and more equitable leave opportunities for mothers and fathers. It’s not just a Silicon Valley trend or a popular move for financial firms. Organizations including professional service firms, food and beverage manufacturers, and retail and food services companies are all expanding their paid leave policies.
One of the best-known leave plans in the US comes from Netflix, which offers up to 52 weeks in its famous “unlimited” plan for the first year after a child’s birth. According to a 2019 Business Insider report, Prudential offers 26 weeks (6.5 months), DocuSign offers 24 weeks (6 months) and Twitter offers 20 weeks (5 months). For companies that want to be considered “family-friendly,” 16 weeks is quickly becoming the minimum.
How a company designs its paid family leave program, including its inclusivity, makes an important statement about the company’s values. Inclusivity considerations include leave for new mothers and fathers, equal coverage for same-sex couples, equal coverage for adoptions, and equitable coverage for full-time, part-time, salaried and hourly employees. Flexibility matters too. Giving parents the option to take non-consecutive weeks off or the option to take twice as many weeks at half-pay empowers new parents to make the right choice for their families.
Why Parental Leave Matters
It’s not just employees who benefit from paid leave. For a small financial investment, employers can reap significant returns:
Talent retention: don’t lose your best and brightest. Don’t give your employees a reason to walk out the door. Women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 9 to 12 months after a child’s birth than women who take no leave. For example, one study summarized by BCG found that when Google increased its paid maternity leave program from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate of female turnover after maternity leave was reduced by 50%.
Reinforce company culture. Paid family leave signals your company’s commitment to employees, recognizing that yes, they have an equally important life outside the office. It’s also an opportunity for your company to make a statement about its values through inclusive policies that are gender neutral, cover same-sex couples, and extend to adoption.
Boost employee engagement and productivity. A 2016 EY study of more than 1,500 employers found that 80% of companies that offer paid family leave report a positive impact on employee morale, and more than 70% report an increase in employee productivity.
As more companies decide to formalize paid parental leave policies, I’m curious: what are your company’s policies? If you were planning to start a family, would you consider changing jobs for a more flexible or generous policy? I invite you to share your experience in the comments below.