This week Netflix announced a new workplace benefit virtually unheard of in the corporate world: unlimited parental leave for the first year of a child’s life.
Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz explained “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed,” she said in a statement. “We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.” The policy also covers parents who adopt.
Some of the largest tech firms already recruit and retain talent by offering generous parental leave — Google, for example, gives mothers 5 months off and Facebook allows mothers and fathers 4 months. But until now, no one has extended an offer for unlimited leave. And of course the most standard practice is to grant women more time off than men.
Netflix has already made a splash in the news by offering an unlimited time-off policy, which lets employees decide how much vacation they want to take each year. Yet while the policy sounds great in theory, it has received criticism for actually leading workers to take less time off since they fear being branded as not that hard-working. The company’s policy has emerged form a philosophy of treating employees “like adults” — indeed, staffers aren’t even required to fill out or submit expense reports. And to make things even better, Netflix has experienced strong growth and a stock price that’s more than doubled this year.
As company spokeswoman Anne Marie Squeo explained, “We ask our employees to make the best decisions for Netflix everyday. This frees them to do the same for their expanding families with the company’s full support.”
Initially Netflix didn’t disclose how much leave it forerly offered parents. But the company did clarify that the new policy would not cover those working on the DVD side of the business.
Many workers rights activists and employment law attorneys are waiting to see if there are similar downsides for unlimited parental leave. Will fathers and mothers feel pressured to race back to the office and resume their careers right after a baby, this resulting in employees taking short leaves? There is also the risk that long maternity leaves can handicap women at work, since some employers pass women over for promotions for fear that they will take time away.
However, the very fact that Netflix has made this policy available to both men and women is a positive sign that moms won’t get penalized. In fact, regarding parental leave as something necessary for both men and women is a crucial step in the fight for gender equality in the workplace.