The Ideal Parental Leave Policy
Photo credit: Creative Commons
People often ask us what the ideal parental leave policy looks like.
Last week, Etsy announced a parental leave policy for employees that a Huffington Post headline described as “basically perfect.” Starting in April, the company will 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 it’s new policy and have even helpfully explained their thinking as more than the right thing to do, providing a series of business justifications for their actions.
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.
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.
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
Of course, policies are different than what happens in practice. At companies such as Facebook where paternity leave is a fully paid 4 months for fathers, for example, the average parental leave taken by men averages 2 months whereas the majority of women at Facebook take the full four months of maternity leave. 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 6 months after the law was passed, less than 2% of eligible fathers have taken any time off.
In short, policies are just the beginning. Employer culture still matters even when you have the “perfect” policy.
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