One Industry Is Taking the Lead on Paid Leave

New mom and baby bed sleepyIf you have kids or if you’re thinking about having kids, you’ve probably received an eye-opening education on family leave policies in the United States. If you have friends with kids, you’ve probably received an earful on these policies and their limitations.

If you haven’t heard about how dreadful our country’s family leave policies are, how far we lag behind other countries, and how too many families have to choose between caring for kids and keeping a job, sit next to me for the next two minutes and you’ll hear more than you ever wanted to hear.

I am passionate about the need to reform the archaic policies in the United States for new mothers, new fathers, and those with sick kids. With women making up 47 percent of the workforce and with two wage-earner households the norm, helping families balance caring for kids and work is a necessity.

So it’s no surprise that I’ve been glued to my computer, reading about Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett’s “Lead on Leave” tour. Their stops – in Seattle, Chicago, Providence and Philadelphia – have highlighted positive developments happening in the Obama administration and in a few states. Don’t get too excited yet – we are still talking baby steps.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama pushed for paid sick leave and paid family leave. He proposed more than $2 billion (with a “b”!) to help states get paid leave programs up and running and directed the Department of Labor to use $1 million to help states and localities study implementing similar programs.

And, the president is making sure the federal government walks the talk. In January, he signed a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to allow workers to take up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members, even if they haven’t earned that much time yet.

The President’s latest efforts on this issue build on the work done at the 2014 White House Summit on Working Families, and these strategies acknowledge that innovation and progress are happening at the state and local level.

Three states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – offer some sort of paid leave for families. The California program provides up to 6 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. Workers receive 55 percent of their employee’s weekly wage, which is funded through employee-paid payroll taxes. In New Jersey, workers can access paid leave that covers up to two-thirds of their wages (up to $524/week) for 6 weeks.  The Rhode Island leave program provides 4 weeks of paid leave for the birth, to a maximum of $752 per week, based on earnings.

Ohio, Virginia and Illinois offer paid parental leave for state employees, while Washington, D.C.; St. Paul and Brooklyn Park, Minnesota; St. Petersburg, Florida; San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Austin, Texas provide paid leave for city employees.

Lest you think only government can lead on helping families, there are a select number of companies making great strides on family leave. Just last week, Johnson & Johnson announced it would give new parents an additional 8 weeks of paid leave, bringing their total paid leave to 17 weeks for moms and a minimum of 9 weeks for dads.

Large tech companies have taken the lead on paid parental leave, battling it out to see who can be most generous. New parents at Facebook receive four months of paid leave. Google offers up to 22 weeks of paid maternity leave and up to 12 weeks for all new parents. Apple gives paid leave to new moms up to four weeks before delivery and 14 weeks after.

Sadly, we can’t all work for huge tech companies, and those generous leave packages still apply to only a very few Americans – and certainly not those in minimum wage or hourly jobs.

But, every step we take forward counts… even the baby steps.




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