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The Ideal Parental Leave Policy
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People often ask us what the ideal parental leave policy looks like.

What do we think? We accept that the ideal world may involve no assumptions about gender roles and care-taking, and involves equal parental involvement of the raising of children. And of course, we applaud employers like Etsy and Facebook who offer parental leave policies that treat people equally whether they are men or women, straight, gay, hourly, international or domestic employees.

That said, we would hate for the “perfect” policy to become the enemy of earnest efforts to make progress. There are so many employers outside Silicon Valley (and even within the technology sector) that for one reason or another are unlikely to adopt policies such as those in place at Etsy, Google or Adobe. Millions of employees out there who are about to become parents, or just interested in becoming parents one day in the future would be happy to simply see their companies improve their offerings.

What Is the Parental Leave Entitlement?

Parental leave entitlement is time off from work for new parents. The only nation-wide policy that exists in the United States concerning parental leave is FMLA, which entitles new parents who work at employers with more than 50 employees and have worked for more than 12 Months and 1,250 Hours unpaid leave and job protection for up to 12 weeks. Many employers offer more generous policies, including paid time off. 

Companies are expanding and improving their parental leave policies in different ways. For some that may mean offering short-term disability where there is currently no policy at all except FMLA. For others it may mean moving away from short-term disability insurance offerings to an actual paid maternity leave policy. For those with maternity leave policies already in place, that may mean increasing the number of paid weeks, implementing a paternity leave offering, or re-writing the maternity leave policy to be gender-neutral. In short, we applaud all progress and efforts to make progress.

Sample Parental Leave Policies

Headline-generating policies are great for creating a “race to the top” when it comes to benefits, but we would hate for those extremely generous benefits to be dismissed by employers as gilded perks for “other people”, or inapplicable to them. To that end, we have found some sample policies that may be helpful to companies who either have no policies in place, or who are looking to understand their options:

Sample FMLA Policy

Sample Short-Term Disability Policy

Sample Template for Paid Maternity Leave Policy (for Mothers)

Sample Gender-Neutral Parental Leave Policy

For a small fee, the Society for Human Resource Management and legal services sites such as Nolo also provide resources for employers looking for templates and sample documents.

Can You Be Refused Parental Leave?

In short, you cannot be denied time off, assuming you meet the eligibility requirements in terms of the number of employees at your company and hours worked. Under FMLA, you may receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. 

Do you get paid for parental leave? Not necessarily. No country-wide paid protections exist, although some employers do pay.

Parental Leave Policies in the News

• Etsy 

In 2016, Etsy announced a parental leave policy for employees that a Huffington Post headline described as “basically perfect.” The company said it would offer employees around the world who have biological or adoptive children 26 paid weeks of parental leave regardless of the parent’s gender and who — if anyone — is the “primary caregiver.” Etsy is right to be proud of its policy and has even helpfully explained their thinking as more than the right thing to do, providing a series of business justifications for their actions.

• Wal-Mart

In early 2018, the U.S.’s largest private employer announced that hourly workers would be entitled to 10 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave, and fathers and partners could take up to six weeks of parental leave. This was a dramatic increase to their previous policy, which allowed mothers eight weeks of partial-pay maternity leave and no benefits to fathers, adoptive parents, or same-sex couples.

• Microsoft

Also in 2018, Microsoft expanded its parental leave policy to contractors, those working with the company could take off 12 weeks of paid leave after giving birth to or adopting a child.

Microsoft is extending parental leave benefits to contractors, mandating that many employees who work with the company be given 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

• Starbucks

Starbucks expanded its parental leave policy in 2017, including non-store partners and giving mothers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. Non-birth parents are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave.

• Law Firms

With so many huge companies offering more generous parental leave policies, smaller businesses are beginning to follow suit. 2018 saw an expansion of these policies at law firms as an attempt to attract top talent, Bloomberg Law reported.

What Is the Difference Between Pregnancy Leave and Parental Leave?

Maternity leave is a form of parental leave. Many companies offer more generous leave policies to the birth mother, as opposed to a non-birth parent, such as a father or adoptive parent. However, under FMLA, the policy is 12 weeks for all parents. 

Parental leave generally refers to leave taken after the child is born, as opposed to during the pregnancy. If you have complications that require you to take leave early, your 12 weeks under FMLA would begin then. If you are entitled to paid leave at your company, you would need to negotiate the terms, such as using sick leave or vacation time.

What Impact Do These Policies Have?

Of course, policies are different than what happens in practice. At companies such as Facebook where paternity leave is a fully paid four months for fathers, for example, The New York Times reported that the average parental leave taken by men averages two months whereas the majority of women at Facebook take the full four months of maternity leave as of 2014. Some of this is due to cultural norms and the stigma men may face if they are seen as prioritizing their family and personal lives over their jobs and careers. In the UK, for example, we’ve just seen the one year anniversary of a law that allows both parents to share up to one year of joint parental leave. During the first six months after the law was passed, less than 2% of eligible fathers have taken any time off, according to Financial Times.

In short, policies are just the beginning. Employer culture still matters even when you have the “perfect” policy.

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