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How Can the Tech Industry Impact America’s Parental Leave Problem?

America is the only high-income country with no federal law requiring paid leave for new parents.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires larger employers and public agencies to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a new child. About 40 percent of workers are not protected because the law only requires companies with 50 or more employees to comply. Further, to receive parental leave, employees must have worked for the company for at least a year and logged 1,250 hours during the last 12 months. Many employees cannot fiscally afford to take unpaid leave.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of all private industry workers have access to paid family leave. Sixteen percent of state and local government employees have access to paid leave. Finally, federal workers do not receive any paid leave, relying on accumulated sick leave. Many states have enacted laws expanding the federal law to better protect their citizens, such as mandating partial paid leave.

The tech industry is working to change these standards. According to a recent study, many top technology companies are offering more than 3 months of mandatory paid leave to new mothers. Google tops the charts with 18 weeks of paid leave. Instagram, reddit, and Facebook tie with 17 weeks. Yahoo offers 16 weeks. Twitter mandates 13 weeks, while Pinterest and Microsoft allow 12 weeks.

In addition to raising the standards on maternity leave, tech companies are offering a month or more of paid leave for new fathers. Instagram, reddit, and Facebook top the charts with 17 weeks of paid leave. Yahoo offers 8 weeks, Google mandates 7 weeks, and Twitter allows 6 weeks. Pinterest and Microsoft tie with 4 weeks.

Unfortunately, experts do not believe these rising standards will translate outside of the tech industry. Technology companies are continually looking to attract and keep the best talent, leading to increased competition and better benefits for employees. While hiring is competitive outside of the tech industry, many companies are unwilling or unable to offer these non-traditional benefits to employees.

What do you think?

Should the government offer paid leave to new parents?

Would the government attract better talent if employees received better benefits?

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David B. Grinberg

Interesting topic, Samantha. A few thoughts:

The public sector, especially federal gov, already has some of the best and most generous employee benefit programs available (including leave policies)– especially when compared to the private sector. That’s one major attraction of federal employment.

Thus further paid leave enhancements for the public sector are 1) arguably not needed, 2) completely impractical in the current budget climate, when federal pay itself has been frozen for three consecutive years, and 3) Would likely not have public support, much less support from Congress.

Regarding the private sector, progressive companies and industries, like the tech sector, will continue to attract talent because of HR and benefit policies such as paid parental leave (among other things). Savvy private employers know that they operate in a competitive global marketplace. Therefore, companies with restrictive policies will lose out to domestic and global employers who offer more attractive incentives.

Lastly, taking a step back, the private sector first needs to remedy the persistent problem of widespread pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. How? By strict compliance with the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which amended Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — in additon to similar state and local laws.