Covering Maternity, Paternity and Paid Family Leave Expansions

by March 1, 2016
Scott Sherrill-Mix family

Many companies, cities and states are looking to increase options for paid family leave including for new parents. CC Photo via Flickr User Scott Sherrill-Mix.

More cities and states are legislating policy around paid family leave. And companies are improving their internal policies around leave too. The definition of family leave has evolved to include more than just time off for new mothers (or fathers), expanding to paid time to care for ill family members as well. As paid time off for new moms and dads, and employees with family care needs, gains traction among business leaders and lawmakers, here’s how to start reporting on the trend.

Is Family Leave Good for Business?

Some of the more interesting factors for updating paid parental leave and family leave policies are their links to employee loyalty and retention. A study from the Center of Women and Work at Rutgers University reported in 2012 a positive relationship in worker retention when employers give women leave options. Those companies with a paid leave found women were 93 percent more likely to work 9‐12 months after giving birth than those who took no leave. The CWW report cited an American Management Association article on the positive financial impact of low employee turnover.

A number of the studies cite results from California’s Statewide Paid Sick Leave policy enacted in 2002. The state’s leave law is an employee payroll tax-funded program, so no direct costs to employers exist. The Department of Labor produced an analysis of the decade since the law was enacted and suggested the law improves employee productivity, morale and loyalty.

More recently, Netflix made headlines last year when it updated its paid family leave policy for employees of its streaming services (employees of its DVD distribution arm were not offered the benefit). The tech giant offered men and women working for its streaming service unlimited paid time off for up to one year. Netflix officials touted the benefit as a way to keep valuable employees onboard and work around their needs.

This kind of move is a growing trend among tech companies. Many companies, including Adobe, Microsoft and Facebook, have adopted generous paid parental leave policies.

The BLS issued a 2013 report on paid time off in the private sector. In 2012, 11 percent of all workers were eligible for paid family leave (which was here defined more expansively than paternity or maternity leave). Use the report to explore the impact on businesses and significant industries in your coverage area. 

Men and Paternity Leave

The Department of Labor reported that in 2012, only 13 percent of men who used paternity leave were paid, compared to 21 percent among women who took paid leave. In California, since the paid family leave was adopted, more men are using paid family leave after birth and adoption (26 percent after five years compared to 17% before the law went into effect).

A 2015 Pew Research Center report revealed that 56 percent of working parents say work-life balance is difficult, and more than 60 percent experience difficulty balancing family responsibilities. With equal paid leave options, advocates suggest that a more equitable work-life balance would be possible.

Some even suggest that an increase in men using paid paternity leave can lead to a workplace reality that curbs the pay gap experienced by female counterparts. Pew’s report also investigates the distribution of household and care responsibilities for working families.

The Family Leave Laws that do Exist

Fast Company reported in February on the patchwork of local and state laws addressing family leave needs. Their report followed an announcement from Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio that he would include family leave in his platform, something the magazine and candidate say has strong American support.

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 offers employees the right to unpaid time off to take care of family members including newborn or adopted children or to care for a sick loved one. FMLA only applies to companies with 50 or more employees.

States and cities have explored more extensive family leave regulation, mandating that private companies offer paid time off, in addition to FMLA benefits. Reporters can look into the paid family leave policies in their city or state; is there a law on the books in your area that’s pending legislation? 

Who to Talk to in Your Community

A number of family values and women’s groups are working on the issue at the state and local level. Reach out to advocates and businesses in your area to get a range of perspectives. Try talking with state or local women’s chamber of commerce or associations of professional working women, women and family rights groups, or workplace advocacy organizations.