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Maternity Leave Trends and Parental Leave Policies: A New Flexibility

Maternity leave trends and changes in parental leave policies are slowly bringing the benefits offered to American employees in line with benefits enjoyed by workers in other developed countries around the world.

New maternity leave trends and changes in parental leave policies are coming under increased scrutiny in the American workplace. This reflects a larger trend among employers that offer benefits targeting the financial needs of specific segments of their workforce.

A quick survey of changing parental leave policies among large U.S. businesses help to illustrate this trend:

  • Netflix announced a new policy allowing employees to take unlimited paid-time off after the birth or the adoption of a child.
  • Microsoft expanded its existing paid parental leave to 20 weeks for birth mothers and 12 weeks for all parents of new children. The policy permits parents to take this leave in two segments and gradually return to the workplace.
  • Accenture doubled their maternity leave benefit to 16 paid weeks and offered greater paid leave for secondary caregivers. Also, parents aren't required to travel for business for a year after a child's birth or adoption.
  • Hilton Worldwide announced that all new parents will get two weeks of paid leave, with new birth mothers receiving a total of 10 paid weeks of leave.
  • At Johnson & Johnson, new parents are eligible for eight additional weeks of paid leave during the first year of the birth or adoption of a child.
  • The U.S. Navy has tripled paid maternity leave to 18 weeks.

In a blog post, Netflix explained the thinking behind its new policy. "We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Each employee gets to figure out what's best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences."

These dramatic changes in maternity trends reflect changes in the labor market, as well as a strategic approach among employers to make their companies more appealing to both millennials and older generations who are still having children.

"An individual on paid leave is more likely to come back to work as opposed to someone not on paid leave," notes Bruce Elliott at the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). "Companies are not doing this to be nice. This is an investment."

In fact, SHRM surveys of employers indicates an across-the-board trend towards expanded parental leave, from 16 percent of employers who offered paid maternity leave in 2011 to 21 percent in 2015. Bruce Elliott of SHRM contends that "the popularity of the idea will result in it being adopted on a fairly wide scale" among smaller-sized businesses.

Interestingly, paid parental-leave policies in the U.S. lag behind those of many other developed countries. In Japan, for example, new fathers can spend 52 weeks at home with more than 58 percent of their salary. In Norway, mothers enjoy 35 weeks of maternity leave with full pay. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees protection for a covered mother or father's job for as long as 12 weeks, but paid leave is not mandated under this law.


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