Embracing Paid Parental Leave
In August, Netflix announced that it will grant employees unlimited paid leave for up to a year after having or adopting a baby. The new policy will provide paternity and maternity leave at employees’ usual salaries, and allow them to choose full-time or part-time work upon return. Netflix has garnered lots of positive attention for this move, as it is far more generous than the parental leave policies of most US corporations. It’s energizing to see a corporate company wholeheartedly understand the needs of modern working men and women.
Unfortunately, Netflix’ policy currently applies only to employees in the streaming division. Hopefully the multi-billion dollar company will expand parental leave to all of its employees and set an even worthier example for American businesses, especially given the nation’s lack of meaningful action on the issue.
As it stands, the US is the only major industrialized nation that does not offer some form of paid parental leave. The extent of its federal leave policy is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which gives eligible workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. The FMLA was the product of much political strife, having been blocked in Congress numerous times before it was finally passed. These facts illustrate a clear message to American workers: the US government is out of touch with their priorities. In reality, paid leave offers a myriad of benefits, both in and out of the workplace.
Under a paid leave system, women are more likely to return to work after the leave, increasing their employment and career advancement in the long-term. It also results in more leave-taking by low-income parents, who are on the whole less likely to work at companies that provide paid leave. Opponents of paid leave often cite the financial burden it would impose on businesses. In practice, this concern seems to be unfounded. In California, which provides a state paid leave program, most companies have reported being either positively affected by the law, or not at all. Paid leave allows employers to develop stronger relationships with employees, armed with the knowledge that employees can stay with the organization for a longer time, even after having children. Overall, paid leave contributes to healthier work-life balance for professionals, and higher long-term productivity in workplaces.
Child care is too important to be dismissed as a personal issue to be dealt with at home (where it almost always falls on women). It’s time we make it a national economic priority.