Netflix recently announced it would allow employees unlimited paid leave during their first year as parents. However, before we express outrage, the new policy applies only to “salaried streaming employees.” According to a recent article published by NPR, the hourly employees at Netflix aren’t happy about this policy and want to see a change.

This type of policy isn’t new to Netflix. They were one of the first employers to offer an unlimited vacation policy to its employees. 

Three states mandate paid family leave; California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The state of Washington passed a measure to provide a paid family leave insurance program in 2007, however, it was never implemented and has been indefinitely postponed by subsequent legislation.

President Obama brought new attention to paid leave this year, when he pointed out in his State of the Union address that the U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn't mandate paid sick or maternity leave for its workers. In January, he announced that federal workers would receive six weeks of paid family leave.  Hillary Clinton is advocating for stronger paid-leave policies on the campaign trail. Sen. Bernie Sanders, her closest rival for the Democratic nomination, has advocated both paid vacation and paid maternity leave in his speeches across the country.

Also see: "Don't expect Netflix to start a trend."

While on the surface this might appear to be a democratic issue, many Republican members of the House offer paid family leave to their employees.  They believe it is good for families, but do not want it mandated for private-sector employers. Approximately 9 of every 10 House offices already offer some type of paid maternity or paternity leave under the FMLA, according to the 2010 House Compensation Study commissioned by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.

But that means that nearly 10% of Hill offices do not offer any paid maternity or paternity leave. And nearly 25% of offices that do provide paid leave offer less than Obama’s proposed six weeks. This includes the office of Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), which provides two weeks of paid leave for staffers for the birth or adoption of a child, with the option to take 10 additional weeks unpaid.

A January 2015 New York Times article found, “it’s worth noting that virtually all of the respondents — 15 Democrats, two independents and nine Republicans — said they provided paid leave of some kind.”

Still, the U.S. is far behind other countries; U.K. offers 280 days and 90% of pay, Australia 126 days with a flat rate of payment, Japan 98 days with 60% pay and China 90 days with 100%, just to name a few.

Also see: "Netflix offers new parents up to a year of parental leave."

Employee leave, including paid leave, appears to have quickly become one of the employment law issues of the new millennium.  It will potentially have the greatest impact on the greatest number of workers of any generation.

So what should benefit managers and others do to prepare for and effectively address this trend? Recognize that any mandate, like paid leave, not only involves additional expense for employers, it also creates an administrative burden that employers must manage. The Disability Management Employer Coalition helps employers to network around issues like this, so they can assess the impact of new federal regulations, and share solutions that make compliance less intimidating.

Ideas about work-life balance are rapidly changing. Employee leave is right in the middle of that policy and business management discussion. Benefit managers would be wise to get ahead of the curve.

Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

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