Corporate America is failing on paid family leave

The largest employers discriminate against fathers and adoptive parents.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t require its employers to give new parents time off for the arrival of their child. That, of course, doesn’t preclude employers from doing it voluntarily, and some have made headlines for offering generous policies.

But by and large, American employers have failed to step up and offer all of their workers quality paid leave policies.

PL+US, a nonprofit that pushes for paid family leave, researched the paid family leave policies at the country’s 60 largest employers, which together employ 14 million people. The first thing they found is a lack of information and transparency: more than half of the 60 companies refused to disclose what their policies are.

Things don’t look a whole lot better at the remaining ones, either. Six said they have no paid leave policy at all.

Those that do offer paid leave, meanwhile, mostly have policies that discriminate against many parents. Twenty-two confirmed that they give fathers less time off than mothers and/or give adoptive parents less time than birth parents.

Among those, 10 confirmed that while they offer paid maternity leave, they offer nothing to new fathers. Another 11 give new dads significantly less time off than moms.

A similar pattern emerges for adoptive parents. Nine companies don’t give adoptive parents any of the leave that’s offered to birth mothers, while another nine give them less time.

These companies range from low-wage employers to white collar workplaces. For example, Starbucks gives new mothers and adoptive parents six weeks but gives fathers nothing, while McDonald’s gives birth mothers 12 weeks and nothing to new fathers and adoptive parents. AT&T offers mothers up to eight weeks of maternity leave but nothing for fathers or adoptive parents, while Verizon gives birth mothers two weeks and nothing to everyone else. Ford and General Motors both give birth moms six to eight weeks with nothing for fathers or adoptive parents.

Meanwhile, new birth mothers at General Electric, HP, IBM, and Procter & Gamble all get at least twice the amount of paid leave available to everyone else.

These companies may think they’re offering support to working mothers by helping to keep them in the workforce and level the playing field. But by distinguishing between mothers and fathers, they can end up singling women out for more stigma. Studies have found that benefits offered only to women, such as long maternity leaves, can hurt their pay and employment. Employers already levy a motherhood penalty against moms, and they may end up extending that to all working women if they see them as a more costly investment who might take paid leave versus men who won’t take any time off.

This very stigma against working mothers is something that Ivanka Trump, daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, has promised her father would combat. At the Republican National Convention, she said Trump would change labor laws to support working women, declaring, “Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.”

Yet the maternity leave policy she helped craft and that Trump rolled out in September furthers the same unequal pattern found in corporate America. It would only offer paid maternity leave, leaving out all fathers and adoptive parents.

That proposal fails to reap the equalizing benefits of offering paid leave to all parents. Giving men paid leave makes it more likely than they will take time off when their child arrives. That, in turn, has been found to increase both women’s employment and their incomes. Men who take leave to spend time at home with their young children also end up more involved and competent, committed parents later on.

PL+US did find some good news: eight of the companies that disclosed their paid leave policies had updated them over the last year to make the leaves longer and/or more equalized for all parents. And while that trend began in high-paid professions like consulting, finance, and technology, it has since been picked up by Hilton and could potentially spread to the service and retail sectors as well.

But for now, huge inequalities still exist. Just 13 percent of the workforce receives paid family leave, and those who are paid the least — and are therefore less able to afford taking unpaid time off — are the least likely to get it.