Earlier this year, Kirsten Calkins was six months pregnant with her first baby, working as an executive coordinator at a modest nonprofit in New Hampshire. Like so many working parents in the U.S., she worried about how to deal with a drop in pay at the very moment a new infant arrived.
Her employer, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, offered 4 weeks paid leave (at 100% of the worker’s salary), then 5 weeks at 60% pay and then, if the employee could manage it, an additional 3 weeks unpaid.
But Calkins was fortunate to get pregnant in 2015: the year that many U.S. companies, particularly in tech, finally realized that we can’t just strand workers facing immense personal challenges.
In January, IAPP – which many tech companies belong to – started giving every employee 12 weeks fully-paid leave after a new baby arrives. “The level of excitement is hard to put into words,” Calkins explained. “Not having to juggle a life altering experience like having a baby with budgeting for a new expense with less income. It was like a weight was lifted.”
The U.S. is one of only a few countries that does NOT offer mothers any paid maternity leave. And it’s the only developed country in the world without a paid leave policy. That lack of support leads to a significant percentage of working parents sliding into poverty. It also jeopardizes the health of parents and infants.
Finally, in 2015, policymakers and businesses started to pay attention – and it’s possible that one day we’ll all look back on this past year as a turning point in the movement for paid leave for all.
A growing number of businesses – from Netflix and Adobe to Microsoft and Goldman Sachs – launched policies to expand paid benefits for employees. Moreover, 21% of companies who talked with the Society for Human Resource Management said they now offered paid maternity leave, up from 16% in 2011.
Even the U.S. President (for the first time ever) is giving air time to paid parental leave and sick leave. In January’s State of the Union address, Obama explained that “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. And that forces too many parents to make [a] gut-wrenching choice.”
The Department of Labor now offers grants to states who want to investigate how paid family leave could be implemented. Three states have enacted paid family leave policies, including California, Rhode Island and New Jersey. In the latter, the policy is so popular that Republican governor Chris Christie had to renege on his promise to eliminate it when he was voted into office. And now 18 additional states are considering paid leave initiatives.
The good news is we don’t need a vaccine. We know the solution.
For our current presidential candidates (on both sides of the aisle) the issue can no longer be ignored in the 2016 election cycle. Hillary Clinton made a call for paid leave in the first economic speech she gave this year. That was something she never would have pushed for as a senator. Even a Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, has called for a business tax credit for offering paid leave.
And supporting these measures makes good political sense, candidates who advocate for paid leave are reportedly 8% more likely to win, according to projections from The National Partnership for Women & Families and a recent report in the New Republic . In Connecticut, some analysts believe that Dan Malloy won the race for governor due to his support for paid sick leave.
And not surprisingly, labor groups are agitating for more parental leave.
“It’s kind of a new thing. We’ve always pushed to increase quality of life for our members, but the spotlight has fallen on leave,” said Robert Daraio, a representative of the News Guild of New York. Daraio was involved in negotiations for 4 months’ paid parental leave for employees at the The Nation just last month. “We’re pushing for this in all contracts going forward,” he said.
Almost every day now, it seems like a new company is issuins a press release announcing more time for parents and caretakers.
In the business sector, tech companies literarlly fell over themselves in 2015 to one-up each other with more generous leave benefits. Over the summer When Netflix announced it would give 12 months – yes, a whole YEAR – of leave to new parents, regardless of gender, the news went viral and may have set off the avalanche of other companies racing to improve their offerings – including Microsoft and Amazon.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is currently taking a highly publicized paternity leave that employment attorneys and workers compensation lawyers see as a great example for fathers, who are seen as a crucial part of the paid leave movement.