America is behind the times on paid parental leave. The only three countries in the world that do not guarantee a paid maternity leave are Papua New Guinea, Oman, and the United States. Paternity leave is scarce among American companies, especially when paid.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was intended to partially alleviate this problem, but it only applies to companies with more than fifty workers and only allows twelve weeks of unpaid time off. Companies are welcome to offer longer periods of time or paid time off as a benefit, but the companies must absorb the cost of the program.
Some companies choose to do so, but not many. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only 12% of American workers have access to paid parental leave. In the low-wage sector, where paid leave would help the most, only 5% of women have access to paid maternity leave.
The Obama administration is working on a 2.2-billion-dollar effort to kick start paid parental leave policies as part of the White House Summit on Working Families. However, discussions of paid parental leave at the federal level have never gotten off the ground, and there is likely to be no legislative action of any sort in the near future — certainly not before the 2016 election.
The only action was taken by the executive branch as federal employees now have six weeks paid parental leave. In the absence of federal programs, four states offer paid parental leave — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. In the other 46 states, it is up to individual employers, where the tech sector is leading the way in parental leave policies.
Facebook offers four fully paid months to both mothers and fathers. Apple gives new mothers up to 14 paid weeks and 6 paid weeks for partners, while Microsoft's policy will change in November to 20 and 12 paid weeks for mothers and partners respectively. Netflix has offered a flexible "unlimited" paid leave policy for up to one year. However, the nature of tech sector jobs is better suited than most professions for flexible schedules.
Should the U.S. join the rest of the world and adopt paid parental leave? Here are some pros and cons of this approach, starting with the pros.