Leave is all you Need

By: Lindsay Korn

In August 2015, Netflix announced that their employees are now permitted to take unlimited parental leave within the first year of childbirth or adoption while continuing to earn their full salaries.[1] The policy indicates that mothers and fathers are able to take off as much time off as they want within that year and can even work part-time or full-time for a short period and then leave again.[2] Tawni Cranz, the chief talent officer at Netflix stated, “This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated,” explaining the reason for the policy change.[3]

Compared to the current federal law, Netflix’s new policy is incredibly progressive. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 only guarantees new parents twelve weeks of leave but only for eligible employees and even then the leave is not paid.[4] Further, in about 178 countries around the world, paid leave is offered to working mothers, however, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not offer paid leave to mothers or fathers.[5]

Taking gender dynamics into account, gender inequality and wage gaps are still prevalent in America.[6] These problems become exacerbated when employers penalize women based on the expectation that “women will leave the workforce when they have children.”[7] Paternity leave may help alleviate these sex discriminatory practices in the workplace; however, research shows that men are still not taking time off to help their families.[8] There seems to be a stigma “associated with men who put parenting on an equal footing with their jobs” therefore many employers assume that men, as the breadwinners, will engage in work first and women will take care of the children. [9]

Based on these stigmas, countries, such as Sweden, have created policies requiring new fathers to take months of paid parental leave.[10] However, in the United States, authorizing a federal law for mandatory paternity leave is unlikely due to constitutional restraints and simply due to the fact that the United States hardly offers enough time for leave that is unpaid.[11] Essentially, it is up to the states or employers to create new policies for paid leave policies. [12]

Though Netflix’s new policy is progressive, critics are not sure whether the policy is as beneficial as it seems.[13] For instance, an unlimited policy may have inadvertent consequences in that employees are not taking advantage of the amount of leave they are offered.[14] Some employees even feel “guilty about taking time off….especially when….add[ing] in the gender dynamics.”[15] Policies like the one Netflix established could be improved by making a certain amount of paid leave mandatory, not just for men, but for women as well. In order to prevent any criticism or backfire from implementing this policy, the purpose for the mandatory leave can be presented as an “emotional health benefit to a newborn baby,” instead of an attempt to alleviate gender discrimination in the workplace.[16]

[1] Heather Kelly, Netflix to Offer Unlimited Parental Leave, CNN Money (Aug. 5, 2015, 9:38 AM), http://money.cnn.com/2015/08/04/technology/netflix-parental-leave.

[2] Emily Steel, Netflix Offers Expanded Maternity and Paternity Leave, N.Y. Times (Aug. 4, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/business/netflix-offers-expanded-maternity-and-paternity-leave.html.

[3] Laura T. Coffey, ‘As Much Time As They Want’: Netflix Offers ‘Unlimited’ Leave for New Parents, Today (Aug. 5, 2015, 12:00 PM), http://www.today.com/parents/much-time-they-want-netflix-offers-unlimited-leave-new-parents-t36731.

[4] 29 U.S.C.A. § 2612 (2009).

[5] The Huffington Post Canada, Maternity Leaves Around The World: Worst And Best Countries For Paid Maternity Leave, (May 22, 2012, 3:09 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/22/maternity-leaves-around-the-world_n_1536120.html.

[6] Michael Selmi, Family Leave and the Gender Wage Gap, 78 N.C. L. Rev. 707 (2000).

[7] Id.

[8] Lauren Weber, Why Dads Don’t Take Paternity Leave, Wall St. J. (June 12, 2013, 8:18 PM), http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324049504578541633708283670.

[9] Id.

[10] Stassa Edwards, Swedish Men To Get Three Months of Mandatory Paid Paternity Leave, Jezebel (May 31, 2015, 3:00 PM), http://jezebel.com/swedish-men-to-get-three-months-of-mandatory-paid-pater-1708044952.

[11] Ariel Meysam Ayanna, Note, Aggressive Parental Leave Incentivizing: A Statutory Proposal Toward Gender Equalization in the Workplace, 9 U. Pa. J. Lab. & Emp. L. 293, 299 (2007).

[12] The Nat’l Partnership, Paid Family and Medical Leave: An Overview, http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/paid-leave/paid-family-and-medical-leave.pdf (last visited Sept. 29, 2015).

[13] See, e.g., Jenna McGregor, An ‘Unlimited’ Parental Leave Policy Sounds Great, But Will It Work? L.A. Times (Aug. 6, 2015, 4:00 AM), http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-on-leadership-parental-leave-20150816-story.html.

[14] Id.

[15] “If the policy says ‘unlimited’ but no one actually sees a company leader take six, nine or even twelve months off, they’re more likely to default to what’s considered normal at other companies. And that could be particularly true if there’s no manager of their own gender who is setting an example.” Id.

[16] Ayanna, supra note 11, at 301.

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