The big question is why access to family leave has to depend on where you work. It’s no mystery — our national policies are lousy when it comes to working families.
Netflix made a giant leap ahead of 99 percent of corporate America last week when it announced an unlimited first year leave policy for new parents after the birth or adoption of a child. You read that right — unlimited. And it applies to fathers as well as mothers.
It gets better. Employees don’t just get the time off — they get it with 100 percent pay. Leave can be taken in spurts or all at once, and workers can return part-time or full-time when the year is up.
A handful of other companies offer paid family leave, but none nearly as generous as the new Netflix policy. Company leaders said they decided to make the move because they want to keep talented workers and support working families.
This is great news for Netflix workers, and it’s already serving as an example for other American businesses. A day after the Netflix policy was announced, Microsoft jumped in with a weaker but still positive move when it increased its paid maternity/paternity leave from four to 12 weeks. We can only hope other companies hop on this bandwagon.
But a bigger question is why access to family leave has to depend on where you work. It’s no mystery — our national policies are lousy when it comes to working families. Out of 185 countries tracked by the United Nations, 183 have some form of paid maternity leave. Who are the two that don’t? The good ol’ U. S. of A. and Papua New Guinea. And the world thinks we’re civilized.
Oh, we do have a Family and Medical Leave law. We’ve had 12 weeks unpaid family leave since 1993, when President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act right after he was sworn in. The law took eight years of Congressional debate, thirteen separate votes, and it was vetoed twice by President George H. W. Bush.
Has it helped? A little. You have to work for a company with at least 50 employees and satisfy other requirements concerning hours and earnings, so only about half of the U.S. workforce qualifies. When workers do qualify, chances are they can’t afford to take it.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has a bill on Capitol Hill making family leave paid. A good idea. But with the partisan gridlock in Congress, babies born today will be adults before it passes. Maybe Congress should talk to Netflix.
Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.