The Trends That Could Shape Family Leave in 2019

trends and statistics in family leave

Only14% of the workforce received paid family leave in 2016. But that number is increasing. Here's what to expect in 2019.

Microsoft caused a stir when it recently announced that it will start requiring business partners and suppliers to offer paid family leave. Companies that do business with the tech giant will be required to offer a minimum of 12 weeks of paid parental or family leave at 60% of salary up to a maximum of $1,000 per week.

Only 14% of the US workforce was covered by an employer-sponsored paid family leave program in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. However, the number of employers offering paid family leave is increasing. The Society for Human Resource Management noted that in its 2018 benefits survey, 35% of its members said they offer paid family leave, an increase from 2016 when 26% of its members said they offered paid family leave.

Tech Companies Lead the Way in Family Leave Trends

Tech companies, facing stiff competition for employees in desirable disciplines, are at the forefront in fashioning paid family leave policies. Microsoft’s recent requirement of paid family leave could accelerate that trend. The tech company said the policy would apply to suppliers with more than 50 employees and cover supplier employees who perform substantial work for the Redmond, Washington-based company. Microsoft also said it is willing to help cover the cost of complying with the policy.

Microsoft made a similar move a few years ago, requiring that contract employees be provided with at least 15 days of vacation and/or sick time.

Microsoft said the policy would apply to suppliers with more than 50 employees and cover supplier employees who perform substantial work for the company. The tech giant also said it is willing to help cover the cost of complying with the policy.

Google upped its maternity leave from three months to five months for mothers and added seven weeks of leave for fathers. In 2015, Netflix moved to give all employees unlimited time off during the first year after a birth or adoption. Later that year, Spotify changed its policies to allow employees to take up to six months of 100 percent paid leave, either all at once or split among the child’s first three years of life.

Although tech companies lead the way in fashioning more generous paid leave of absence policies, they aren’t alone in offering the plans. Chobani, IKEA, and Hilton also made headlines with their announcements. American Express began offering parents 20 fully paid weeks in January 2017, up from six weeks for a parent with primary caregiving responsibilities and two weeks for the “secondary” parent. Mothers who physically give birth have always received an extra six to eight weeks on top of that.

This week, the University of Virginia announced that it is expanding its paid parental leave offering. The University said it will offer up to eight weeks of paid parental leave to all qualifying University salaried employees, expanding on an executive order by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that granted paid family leave to state employees. Previously, parental leave was available only to new mothers who had given birth — excluding fathers or adopting parents — and required the use of vacation time, sick time or short-term disability.

No National Policy on Paid Family Leave

There is no national policy on paid leave of absence laws. Of course, there is the federal Family and Leave Act which guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job protection upon return from an illness or taking care of a family member for companies that have 50 or more employees. But, there is no federal policy on paid leave. However, there have been proposals at the national level.

There is no national policy on paid leave of absence laws.

The most recent proposal comes from Republican senator and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio. The Economic Security for New Parents Act was introduced August 2. The bill allows new parents to pull forward a portion of their Social Security to use for paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child in exchange for delaying their retirement by three to six months per benefit taken.

The “Workflex in the 21st Century Act,” was introduced by Republican Senator Mimi Walters in November 2017. The law would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), allowing employers to opt out of compliance with some laws in exchange for offering a minimum threshold of paid leave for employees and a flexible work arrangement. The exact benefit would depend on the size of the employer and the length of time the employee has been with the company.

“The FAMILY Act,” was introduced by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in February 2017. The bill would establish an Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration and proposes that employees receive benefits for up to 60 days over a 12-month period, funded by a payroll tax.

There seems to be agreement on the need for the uniformity that a national policy would create. Many employers reportedly support a national policy because of compliance issues created by differing paid leave laws at the state and municipal level. Microsoft said its leave policy requirement for suppliers is a minimum threshold and is not meant to supplant a state law that is more generous. Both political parties agree they want to see national legislation addressing the issue, National Public Radio has reported.

States Step in With Leave of Absence Laws

Apart from a growing number of employers offering paid family leave, especially in the technology sector, state and local governments are increasingly adopting laws to provide paid family leave. Seven states – California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington – as well as the District of Columbia provide paid leave as of June 28, 2018, according to “A Better Balance.”

As many as 20 more states are considering some form of paid leave and a growing number of counties and cities have passed laws requiring employers to offer paid leave benefits.

As many as 20 more states are considering some form of paid leave and a growing number of counties and cities have passed laws requiring employers to offer paid leave benefits.

Activism, Wrap-Around Supports and Caregiver Programs

Panorama, a Seattle-based “action tank,” has identified three paid leave trends in its report, “Emerging Business Trends in Paid Family Medical Leave,” that it predicts will influence the paid parental leave discussion in 2018 and beyond. Panorama says the report is based on research conducted with more than 470 companies in the US private sector.

First, Panorama notes an increase in legal, shareholder and employee activism stemming from the lack of a paid leave program. Panorama says activist investors and grassroots organizations are targeting some large employers to draw attention to the issue of offering equitable paid leave to all employees.

Second, Panorama has observed an increase in “wrap-around supports.” Panorama said it has uncovered a trend toward providing what some companies call “wrap-around” supports, such as private locations for mothers to breastfeed, flexible work schedules, etc., to complement paid family leave benefits.

Finally, Panorama sees growing interest in offering broader caregiver programs. Panorama says employers are offering an expanded menu of paid leave benefits, such as parental leave which includes both maternity and paternity leave, as well as caregiver leave with an eye toward an aging U.S. population. Panorama says more than 50% of recent webinar respondents, composed primarily of benefits and HR personnel, said their companies are considering paternity leave policies, while 48% said they are considering broadening caregiver leave.

What to Expect with this Trend Moving Forward

There are many benefits to paid parental leave. A study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has shown that women who take maternity leave make more money and stay in the workforce longer. Expanded family leave policies, such as those that support fathers taking time off to care for children, can increase parent-child bonding and promote higher cognitive test scores for children. It’s been widely reported that the United States is the only developed nation that does not offer paid family leave.

Certainly, the time has come to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of offering paid family leave and whether paid family leave policies can be fashioned which benefit families, employers, and employees. If the tech companies aforementioned are any indication of following trends, we will see the number of these policies rise throughout 2019.

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