Amazon’s New Approach to Parental Leave

From a public relations—and maybe an employee relations—perspective, it could take a while for Amazon to sweep away all of the debris left behind by this recent New York Times article.

But you can’t say the company isn’t trying.

Last month, the ubiquitous online retailer was back in the news, as it expanded its Amazon Connections program in an effort to solicit more frequent feedback from employees with regard to their job satisfaction, leadership opportunities within Amazon and more.

And, just this week, a number of media outlets have picked up on an Amazon memo sent to employees on Monday, which effectively announced a revamped parental leave policy that increases the amount of paid family leave time available to full-time hourly and salaried employees as well as Amazon’s fulfillment center and customer service workers. The new policy affords birth mothers with up to four weeks of paid pre-partum medical leave, followed by 10 weeks of paid maternity leave. Birth mothers and all other new parents who have been with the company for more than one year can also take a new six-week paid parental leave.

Not all of these reports, however, touched on what seems like an especially unusual aspect of the new policy.

In addition to allotting more paid time off to new mothers at Amazon, the company has also unveiled its “Leave Share” program, which allows eligible employees to share all or some of their six weeks of parental leave with a spouse or partner who doesn’t receive paid leave from his or her employer.

Amazon shared details of Leave Share with the Chicago Tribune, offering an example of how an employee could take advantage of this new benefit.

“Julia is an associate at an Amazon Fulfillment Center and recently had a baby. She’s taken 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and would like to come back to work.

“Ideally, she’d like her husband to take some time off at this point, which would make her return to work easier. However, her husband’s employer provides only unpaid paternity leave, and it’s going to be financially difficult for him to take time off. That’s where the Leave Share Program can help. Julia can share all or a portion of her paid parental leave with her husband, and he can stay home and help with their new baby.”

While this example involves a birth mother, the Leave Share concept works the same way for Amazon fathers and same-sex couples, according to the company.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the first high-profile organization to broaden the scope of its parental leave policy. But it will be interesting to see if other large companies follow suit, and start offering employees the ability to share their paid leave time with spouses and partners.

You can count Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of MomsRising.org, among those who think workers should already have such options at their disposal.

In a statement released within hours of Amazon’s Monday memo hitting the media, Rowe-Finkbeiner called for action on a national level to make that happen.

“While we celebrate Amazon.com’s announcement, it is long past time that our elected officials take a comprehensive, national approach that will guarantee that ALL working families will have the ability to earn paid family and medical leave insurance,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to win the ‘boss lottery’ to be covered by this critically important policy that studies show boosts families, businesses and our economy.”