Category Archives: leave policies

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.”

Parental-Leave Parade: Where Could This Lead?

At this point, I’m wondering where this parental-leave maelstrom will take us. Earlier this month, protesters of the Netflix-leave 510042321-- parents & newbornannouncement descended on that company’s headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. to demand the new program extend beyond its wealthiest workers.

Groups including UltraViolet (which I blogged about a little more than a month ago), NARAL, Working Families Party, Democracy for America, Make It Work and Coworker.org were out in force with picket signs and audible opinions — after collecting more than 100,000 signatures protesting Netflix’s policy that, apparently, only serves those making as much as $300,000.

Two days after that protest, Hilton Worldwide unveiled what it’s calling its “industry-leading parental-leave policies.” The benefits will be open to all new parents, not just those in corporate roles. Mind you, it’s not unlimited, but, as Hilton puts it, it’s “the best offered by any major global hospitality company in the United States and Puerto Rico.”

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, new parents at Hilton, including fathers and adoptive parents, will receive two weeks of fully paid parental leave. New mothers who give birth will receive an additional eight weeks of maternity leave for a total 10 weeks of fully paid leave.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of driving significant change in our industry … ,” Matthew Schuyler, Hilton Worldwide’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, said in a statement.

I contacted Schuyler to get his take on where his initiative fits in with the other “news of the day.”

Unlike at Netflix, “we’re supporting all new parents,” he told me. “From our hotels to our corporate offices, and for hourly and salaried team members alike, these new benefits are consistent across all levels. We know the importance of bringing balance to our team members’ lives, and these enhancements will help support them and their growing families.

Mind you, the hotel industry is not the tech industry. There are different variables and realities — and income levels — involved in those two worlds. As this piece on the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, by Lydia DePillis, puts it:

“While many still find it troubling that lower-paid workers get less paid leave than higher-paid ones, the financial calculus is clear. As competition for tech talent has heated up in places like Silicon Valley, generous leave policies have become a recruiting tool for in-demand professionals — but aren’t necessary to find people who can work a production line.”

Still, I commend Hilton, and Schuyler, for taking the lead in all things hospitality. I’m waiting for others in that industry to join the bandwagon.

In fact, I’m waiting to see just where all this parental-leave one-upmanship — if you will — will lead. And I’m eager to see how the tech industry handles the more complicated conflict the Netflix hoopla has unveiled.

In the greater scheme of all that work/life balance entails, could this new focus on working new parents help redefine the workplace a bit more? Methinks it could.

Obama Pushes on Paid Sick Leave

As you may have heard — perhaps while flipping burgers or just generally enjoying the last unofficial day of summer yesterday — President Obama took the occasion of the Labor Day holiday to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave a year to their roughly 300,000 workers, according to the New York Times.

The story notes, however, that the impact of the executive order may not be felt for a few years after Obama leaves office:

“The executive order will have no real effect until after Mr. Obama’s presidency. Because it must first go through a public comment period, it will apply only to new federal contracts starting in 2017. But the White House hopes it will set a standard that will prod lawmakers, private employers, and state and local governments to expand their leave policies.”

For those employees who do not work for a federal contractor that does not provide paid sick leave, hope remains for them as well, as ABC News reports. It just ran a piece on how paid sick-leave laws vary across the country:

The good news for employees is that the number of paid sick leave laws has more than doubled in the past year, according to XpertHR, and that legal landscape is going to change with new laws that will take effect next year in places like Oregon; Tacoma, Washington; and Montgomery County, Maryland.

The story also breaks down the paid sick-leave laws on the books from New Jersey to California.

While employees are definitely welcoming the general shift toward more paid-sick time, ABC News quotes a source from the National Federation of Independent Business, who, “while acknowledging that Mr. Obama has the authority to place conditions on federal contractors, said his latest action was another burdensome government mandate” on private companies.

“No business in America would require its suppliers and contractors to increase costs that will naturally boomerang back in the form of higher prices,” said Jack Mozloom, the federation’s media director.

Not So Fast on the Netflix Good News, Says Group

Invariably, any large company — especially one that’s in the news — attracts its detractors as well as its fans. Just try “Googling” “anti-494368457 -- mother and infantWalmart websites” and see what comes up on the nation’s largest employer.

So no surprise, really, that Netflix’s recent announcement — that it would offer unlimited leave to new moms and dads, allowing them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption — has yielded an “anti-stir.”

A women’s group calling itself UltraViolet just rolled out an ad campaign last week against what it claims are Netflix’s discriminatory practices in not opening its new leave program to the poorest among its ranks instead of just the wealthiest. (Here’s the actual petition for those who want to join the fight.)

According to an emailed announcement about this new uprising, “more than 47,700 UV members have demanded Netflix give its hourly workers the same ‘unlimited’ parental-leave benefits that workers who make $300,000 receive.” As Nita Chaudhary, UV’s co-founder, puts it:

“People are taking notice that Netflix is expecting praise for extending parental leave to its higher-paid employees, yet it doesn’t extend those benefits to the hourly employees who need it most.

“It’s important that Netflix set an example for the rest of employers and companies nationwide: With one in four moms going back to work less than two weeks after giving birth, Netflix can turn the tide by giving ALL employees equal benefits — not just reserve those benefits [for the wealthiest ones].”

The women’s group contends this exemption was somehow left out of the company’s announcement, the latter of which has certainly been reverberating positively throughout the business community, as this feature about the move in Fortune indicates. And this, from BuzzFeed News, indicating other big Silicon Valley companies have been following suit — including Microsoft and Adobe — in announcing similar unlimited paternity leave programs since Netflix’s announcement.

Indeed, I saw no mention of any exemption in the announcement. Nor was it mentioned in Andrew R. McIlvanie’s blog post that included news of the announcement. (Though that post does examine the problem of unlimited leave policies being launched in corporate cultures that don’t support them … which may or may not be the case at Netflix.)

I did reach out to the company about all this, and got the following back from a company spokesperson:

“Across Netflix, we compare salary and benefits to those of employees at businesses performing similar work. Those comparisons show we provide all of our employees with comparable or better pay and benefits than at other companies. For example, medical and life insurance for DVD workers exceeds market standards. All DVD employees including hourly are also eligible for a minimum of 12 weeks off for maternity or paternity leave. We are regularly reviewing policies across our business to ensure they are competitive and help us attract and keep the best employees.”

Nothing on the UV ad campaign. Nothing on any exemption in its new policy. Like so many other big-splash initiatives and subsequent fallout, I guess we’ll just have to let this one play out.