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How does your workplace’s parental leave policy measure up?

Hanging with the family. March 26, 2018 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongMethod
Despite modern progress in women’s rights, many American workplaces are still behind on at least one policy: parental leave.

Due to financial constraints, many young women have given up on the nuclear family model and delayed childbirth for the sake of their career. Toys R Us, which has recently declared bankruptcy, has even blamed the company’s decline on millennials for not having kids.

But can you really blame this generation? According to a January 2018 report by the National Partnership of Women and Families (NPWF), 59 percent of working Pennsylvanians — not just millennials, either — do not have access to unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides protections for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for those working at least 25 hours per week at companies with at least 50 employees.

Additionally, women of color who are the main income generators of the household are hit the hardest by insufficient parental leave policies. NPWF explains that 84 percent of Black mothers and 64 percent of Latina mothers compared to only 50 percent of white women are breadwinners of their households.

NPWF is in support of a new policy: the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which addresses the urgency for paid leave for medical conditions beyond pregnancy. The Congressional bill currently has 154 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 32 in the Senate.

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“Companies certainly can step up and offer employees a number of different things to meet their needs and the reality of how families and workers function now,” explained Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of workplace policy and senior counsel at NPWF. “It’s true that our families and workers have evolved over the decade, but our workplaces look like they did 30 or 40 years ago in terms of policy.”

That’s why some Philadelphia companies, including digital marketing agency SEER Interactive and international accounting firm PwC, have stepped up and offer benefits beyond the bare minimum. Here are just a few ways you can follow their lead and integrate better practices for working families into your workplace.

Offer paid parental leave — not just maternal.

“Our policy is a parental leave policy, which applies to new moms and dads,” said Emily Allen, director of people operations at SEER Interactive, who has taken leave for two separate pregnancies. In other words, many maternal leave policies only offer leave to new moms, while parental leave policies offer leave to any new parent regardless of their gender.

SEER offers a 12-week paid leave period. New mothers also receive an additional two weeks offer prior to their expected due date.

PwC offers six weeks of paid parental leave in addition to short-term disability benefits, which typically include six to eight weeks of additional paid leave. New mothers also received two weeks of paid leave prior to their due date, and anyone who has more than one child at a single time receives an additional two weeks off.

“On average, people take four months of paid leave, because we offer 22 days of vacation [time], after you’ve been here for two years,” PwC Office Managing Partner Deanna Byrne said. “We also offer a sabbatical after you’ve reached certain career milestones.”

Byrne has used the company’s paternal leave policy four times in the 28 years she’s worked there.

Deanna Byrne, PwC’s office managing partner in Philadelphia, took advantage of the firm’s maternity leave with each of her four children, shown here (ages 19, 17, 13, 11). (Courtesy photo)

When companies offer parental leave, rather than exclusively leave for mothers, it can change office culture around sharing childcare. Such policy encourages fathers to take on more responsibility when it comes to caring for a new child, which supports mom (who could use a break right now) and the entire family. Seventy percent of PwC’s dads have taken advantage of their full six weeks of paid time off, Byrne said.

Both PwC and SEER also offer benefits to those who have recently adopted children.

Offer reasonable accommodations.

Working families in general don’t have the same flexibilities as workers without families.

“When parents return to work, we work with their needs to develop flexible work arrangements (i.e. four days a week; work from home), so they have the time they need with their families,” shared Sarah Tropiano, external communications senior manager at PwC, over email.

SEER also offers flexible return-to-work scheduling, where parents can “scale back into work,” Allen said.

Workers should also receive their schedules in advance and within an adequate amount of time, Fleisch Fink stressed. Especially in the service sector, workers are expected to be on-call without much notice and without extra compensation, which can be a tremendous burden to working families. When an employer asks a worker to come into work on short notice, that worker may have to scramble for childcare last minute.

Additionally, NPWF fights for reasonable workplace conditions for pregnant women. If a pregnant worker is required to stand on the job, for instance, a workplace should provide a stool.

Offer not just living, but fair wages.

Adequate pay enables workers to provide for their families. Fleisch Fink also urged employers not just to consider living wages, but also to ensure fair pay to everyone regardless of their gender and race. On average, women earn about 20 percent less than white men, but the pay gap increases for women who aren’t white or cisgender.

A few solutions, Fleisch Fink explained, includes pay transparency, employer self-audit and changing hiring practices about asking applicants’ salary history — which Philadelphia banned last year.

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