These employers are paving the way in paid parental leave

Goaded by idealism, pragmatism or an admixture of both, the private sector is picking up the slack when it comes enacting paid parental leave programs.

This, as states continue to piece together paid family leave policy legislation from existing disability and unemployment insurance programs in lieu of a standard federal program.

Companies that have staked out new ground on the paid parental leave front in recent years range from mammoth companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook to financial services sector stars (including American Express, Bank of America, Citi and Capital One) and big-name consumer brands (like Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup and Gap).

And the list is growing as companies large and small realize they must offer such programs to remain competitive, capture and retain top talent, and keep their workers happy.

Much of this has to do with — you guessed it — millennials, which are on the verge of overtaking baby boomers to become the largest living U.S. generation and the largest U.S. workforce, according to Pew Research Center, are starting their own families.

Meanwhile, the Gen X workforce is transitioning from rearing children to caring for elders. They expect more from their employers than in generations past and are expanding the parental leave conversation to more encompass multigenerational family leave.

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Private-sector employer-paid leave, which originated at large tech-focused companies, can now be found at the majority of Fortune 500 companies. More than 100 brand-name companies, across a broad range of industries, have implemented or have expanded such policies in the last few years, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. Some of the best include:

Capital One — The financial services firm offers 18 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, eight weeks of paid paternity leave, eight weeks of paid leave for adoptive and foster care parents and three days of paid family care leave per year. The company also reimburses up to $35,000 in adoption or surrogacy costs and pays for employees on business travel to have breastmilk shipped home.

Deloitte — The management consulting firm offers 24 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, 16 weeks of paid parental leave and 16 weeks of paid family care leave. “By adding support for eldercare, spousal care and children beyond the birth stage, the program provides our people with the time they need to focus on their families in important times of need,” says CEO Cathy Engelbert.

eBay — The online retailer offers employees 24 weeks of paid maternity leave, 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, 12 weeks of paid family care leave and 12 weeks of paid medical leave. The program applies to both salaried and hourly employees working at least 20 hours a week.

IBM — The tech giant offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave for birth mothers and 12 weeks of paid parental leave, including adoptive parents. This program also applies to both hourly and salaried staff. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for parents balancing family and work every day of their lives,” said Barbara Brickmeier, vice president for employee benefits, in announcing the program expansion.

Procter & Gamble — The consumer good company offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, four weeks of paid parental leave for a secondary caregiver and 16 weeks of paid adoptive parent leave. The program also allows employees to use accrued paid time off and unpaid leave to extend their parental leave up to a year.

Stonyfield Farm — The food production company offers 24 weeks of paid parental leave. “The U.S. is tragically behind the rest of the world when it comes to acknowledging all the benefits that come along with having a caregiver home when a child is introduced to the family. We’re doing it because America is not doing it for us,” says Liza Dube, communications and public relations director.

Perhaps it seems a given that national and global corporations with big HR budgets would have strong paid leave programs. But many smaller and midsize companies are in the vanguard of establishing a new normal when it comes to paid family leave.

Molly Moon’s, an ice cream company based in Seattle, for example, offers its employees 12 weeks of full pay for women and men bringing new children home through birth, fostering or adoption, plus up to 12 weeks of 70% paid leave for other FMLA-qualifying events.

Human resources services company Gusto offers paid family leave — and advice to other small companies about how to set up their own programs.

There’s good news on the public sector front, as well. The U.S. Navy tripled the amount of paid maternity leave for female sailors and Marines to 18 weeks.

But there’s still a long way to go. Even with all these advances, only 17% of U.S. civilian workers currently have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that drops precipitously to 6% for low-income workers.

Why is this kind of paid family leave still so relatively scarce in corporate America? In my next column, I’ll delve into the key challenges employers and employees face when dealing with parental leave.

This is the fourth in a six-part series on paid parental leave for America’s workers: how it started and where it’s going, who’s doing it well, why it’s such a challenge for employers and employees, and why it’s essential to the long-term economic growth of our country.

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