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Employer Trends in Parental Leave Policies

We’ve been reading the business news surrounding companies increasing the parental leave they offer their employees. In today’s blog post, we take a more in depth review of the trend locally, discuss what businesses can expect in the future, and remind employers to understand applicable law before developing their parental leave policy.

Parental Leave in the News

Washington tech giants Microsoft, Amazon, and Zillow have recently announced plans to increase their parental leave. Microsoft now offers 12 weeks of fully paid parental benefits to all new mothers and fathers. Amazon also introduced a revamped parental leave policy. Amazon will offer birth mothers up to 20 weeks of leave. Amazon has also introduced a shared leave program; employees whose partners do not receive parental leave from their employers can share up to six weeks of their leave to replace the partner’s income if the partner takes time off to stay home.

Parental Leave

The tech industry is in a unique position to quickly implement changes in paternity leave. Time Magazine reports that tech companies have high profit margins that allow them to provide these benefits, and tech companies increasingly must offer these benefits to compete for top talent. Time also cites an Ernst & Young report that found that millennials are more likely to “cite parental leave as an important benefit.”

There’s also been a trend in local government to increase parental leave. Earlier this year, the City of Seattle approved four weeks of paid parental leave for city employees. However, the City Council rejected a proposal to increase the leave to 12 weeks. King County recently approved a pilot program to allow certain employees to use some vacation and sick time to receive up to 12 weeks of parental leave.

As all of these changes have happened within the past year; you can expect that more and more companies will follow suit to attract talent, and you can also expect pressure on lawmakers to implement policies to increase access to paid parental leave regardless of employer choice.

How Are Businesses Approaching Parental Leave?

With the rise of changing parental leave policies, the Harvard Business Review looked into three common models: (1) the take-as-much-as-you-want model, such as Netflix’s policy of offering employees up to one year of leave; (2) the lopsided leave model, where a company offers shorter leaves for secondary caregivers; and (3) the standard-policy-for-everyone model, where the same leave is offered to everyone. HBR advocates for the standard policy model. It states that companies should determine how much leave it can afford, offer the same leave to everyone, and then foster a culture where employees feel safe to take the leave.

HBR also suggests that business who have parental leave policies develop processes to ease the transition for the company and employees. They suggest that companies hold a few meetings in anticipation of the leave to celebrate the announcement and plan for transfer of work, that companies develop an on-ramping and “gradual return-to-work” protocol, and that companies provide access to mentors who can answer questions about work processes and parenthood.

Laws Governing Parental Leave

When you’re developing your company’s parental leave policy, ensure that you are complying with all applicable laws. Laws applicable to parental leave policies include federal, state, and local discrimination and medical leave laws. For instance, if your company is covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, you are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours and have been with the company for more than a year. Most private sector companies who employ 50 people or more are covered by FMLA.

There may be other laws that apply to your business depending on where the employee is located and the size of your company. And regardless of the laws that apply specifically to parental leave, you must always ensure as an employer that you do not violate anti-discrimination laws, including laws that prevent discrimination based on gender.

The bottom line with this new movement towards increased parental leave is that workers and companies appear to be valuing work-life balance more and companies are figuring out how to integrate that in their company culture to retain top talent.

Photo: MSC U13 Green | Flickr


Charlene Angeles

Charlene makes time to enjoy the outdoors and has explored Washington's Big Four Ice Caves.

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