The Parental Leave Policy Debate Continues: A Consideration of Unlimited Paid Time Off Parental Leave Policy
Netflix’s “unlimited paid parental leave” policy for the first year after an employee’s child is born or adopted has caused a great stir in the realm of employee benefits policy discussions, but why haven’t other companies followed in its footsteps?
Netflix has been a company talked about consistently with regard to its unlimited vacation and sick leave policies, but as of late, its parental leave policy has been further admired. The company announced that it will provide for employees to take “unlimited paid parental leave” for the first year after a child is born or adopted. Netflix’s policy provides that parents will be paid full salaries and receive full benefits during that first year, even if the parent decides to return to work part time during that year or decides to take the entire year off.
Netflix has stated that the goal in providing for a full year of paid parental leave and its other accommodating leave policies is to keep the most talented individuals at its company and to remain competitive in the field. Netflix further stated that when workers are concerned about what is going on at home, their performance is not as good. Netflix extended its policy to include hourly workers in different departments. Its hourly workers will receive between twelve and sixteen weeks of full paid leave for maternity, paternity, and adoption leaves depending on their department.
The FMLA requires companies to provide eligible workers with up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave per year…
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the law regarding parental leave. The FMLA requires companies to provide eligible workers with up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave per year, and that their group health benefits remain intact and not affected during the worker’s leave. Employers and companies who are required to adhere to these policies under the FMLA are public agencies, including federal, state, and local agencies, as well as private sector employers with fifty or more employees for at least twenty workweeks in the calendar year. Additionally, the FMLA protects workers in that eligible workers who decide to take this unpaid leave are not hindered or pushed out of a job, but rather securing that upon their return, they will come back to the same or an equivalent job.
FMLA leave is applicable under multiple circumstances, such as: (1) the birth of a child, and a period of time to bond with the newborn child; (2) the placement of an employee with an adopted or foster child, and a period of time to bond with the child; (3) a period of time to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition; (4) a period of time to take medical leave when that employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition; and/or (5) a period of time to deal with qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that an immediate family member is on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status in the Armed Forces, Reserves, or National Guard.
However [unpaid leave opportunity typically] puts the employee in a tough situation, and often a situation where many choose to give up their rights under the FMLA.
As the law currently stands, companies are not required to provide paid maternity leave for pregnant workers. If an employer is held accountable to the FMLA, they are required, though, to give unpaid leave to workers who encounter one of the above-mentioned circumstances. If an employee of an eligible company encounters one of the circumstances mentioned above that would make him or her eligible for FMLA leave, he or she may request such unpaid FMLA leave.
However this puts the employee in a tough situation, and often a situation where many choose to give up their rights under the FMLA. An employee whose wife just had a child may be eligible to take FMLA leave for a period of time for the birth of the child and a period to bond with the child. However, this leave is unpaid. The worker may take leave, but they will not be receiving any form of income in the mean time.
Often, employees, particularly male employees who are new fathers or who are not primary caregivers, do not take advantage of their FMLA leave rights because of the unpaid leave aspect. Similarly, female workers who are mothers resort to nannies or other forms of early child care because they cannot afford to take the full, sometimes crucial leave to be with their newborn child or their sick child because they won’t be paid.
[E]mployers with paid maternity leave policies, however, must permit those policies to be redeemable by all full-time or eligible employees to whom the policy applies.
It is important to note that employers with paid maternity leave policies, however, must permit those policies to be redeemable by all full-time or eligible employees to whom the policy applies. For instance, if an employer offers a paid maternity policy for female workers who are having a child, this policy is applicable to all female workers, not just one female worker. Paid paternity policies are even harder to come by in our current workforce. If an employer offers a particular maternity or paternity policy outside of what is legally required by the FMLA, the employer is responsible and required to apply that policy to all workers to whom it could apply instead of select employees.
Many believe Netflix’s decision, as well as other companies’ decisions to provide for a more flexible workplace, and provide greater paid leave is due to the shift in the workplace. As more begin to retire, and more begin to enter the workforce, the workforce is being populated with more and more “millennials.” Millennials are those born between 1982 and 2000, and those of whom are entering the workforce in bulk recently. “Millennials” as a whole have expressed preferences in benefits, and that companies with accommodating parental and family leave policies tend to be more attractive.
Many advocates believe that by promoting a healthy work-life balance for employees, work performance will increase, worker positivity and happiness at the workplace will increase, there will be an increase in competition, and potentially an increase in economic success.
Parental leave policies—maternity, paternity, and family leave alike—have been greatly discussed and debated by politicians, executives, and advocates for a better work-life balance in the United States. Many advocates believe that by promoting a healthy work-life balance for employees, work performance will increase, worker positivity and happiness at the workplace will increase, there will be an increase in competition, and potentially an increase in economic success. So, why haven’t more companies gone this route and provided better leave policies for their workers?
What could arise from Netflix taking this stand? Will other companies follow? It is hard to say whether other companies will begin following in Netflix and other similar companies’ footsteps with regard to accommodating leave policies. Netflix announced its policy change in August, and since then mostly larger companies have made similar changes to their policies. The companies falling behind are the smaller companies who do not have as many resources as the larger companies such as Netflix and Google.
One explanation may be the cost. Currently, the United States certainly falls substantially behind in its parental leave and family leave policy minimums, and since the government has not taken on this battle, it has been left to the companies to make their parental leave policies. A majority of the companies resorting to flexible parental leave policies tend to be technical companies such as Netflix, Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook among others.
Smaller companies with fewer resources tend to have minimal policies, and some do not have any paid parental leave policies whatsoever. The cost of paid parental leave can seem burdensome and not doable for many companies if they are not legally required to provide paid policies.
Another explanation may be many companies’ hesitation to resort from a defined time of leave to an unlimited leave standard. Often unlimited time off policies cause employees and managers to really work in advance to ensure their time off won’t affect projects or cases currently ongoing at the company. Such policies could be harmful to company projects as issues with a project arise or other such unexpected occurrences happen when a particular employee is on an unlimited leave period. Many companies may fear hindered performance instead of increased performance.
Its difficult to say whether increasing parental leave policies will remedy all workplace culture issues. There are other issues with regard to workplace culture that are unique to each company, and cannot be fixed by implementing a particular policy that another, different company, with different workplace culture issues implements. While it is uncertain whether paid parental leave may help workplace culture issues as a whole, paid parental leave policies have many other benefits that may be worth consideration in order to make the company competitive.