The United States ranks last among developed nations when it comes to providing comprehensive protections for workers who need to take time off for family medical leave. According to the International Labor Organization, more than 100 countries in the world now ensure paid maternity leave, and many of those nations now offer provisions for paternal leave as well.
While the U.S. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does guarantee some workers the right to take unpaid time off for limited medical reasons, it falls far short of the paid provisions countries like Estonia and Croatia offer moms and dads during and following pregnancy. Even Mexico, with its burgeoning social problems, offers paid maternity leave.
Fortunately, some American companies aren’t waiting for government to expand paid leave provisions.
Yum! Brands, owner of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, announced earlier this week that it will expand its family leave benefits for parents. The new provisions include 18 weeks of paid leave for mothers (six weeks of which is included as “baby-bonding time” following the pregnancy) and six weeks for fathers, partners and adoptive parents. The change is meant to complement a number of other family-supportive measures that benefited workers can use, including 24/7 access to a doctor through Teledoc, wellness programs, autism support and daycare facilities, the company said.
“As we transform Yum! Brands into a more growth-focused brand builder and global franchisor, investing in our unrivaled culture while engaging and attracting talent is a top priority,” said Tracy Skeans, chief transformation and people officer for Yum! Brands.
The new family leave benefits outpace what most top-rated companies offer in the U.S. According to Working Mother Magazine’s 2016 survey, its top choices offer six to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Paternal leave is not offered by all companies.
“This expanded parental time off and baby-bonding benefit builds on our strong legacy of investing in our people and culture to fuel great results and continuously providing meaningful ways to help our employees be and contribute their best at work and at home,” Skeans said.
And forward-thinking companies like Yum! may soon have help from the feds: This week Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-Conn.) submitted a revised version of the Family Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) to Congress for consideration. If enacted, the legislation would guarantee gender-neutral paid medical leave for parents.
A number of business organizations are backing the bill, which some say will lower costs for both companies and workers. Amanda Ballantyne, national director of Main Street Alliance, a coalition of American small businesses, said making paid family and medical leave a federal requirement for companies would make it easier for small businesses to retain workers.
“A national paid family and medical leave program would enable small businesses to compete on a level playing field with larger employers, reduce turnover costs, provide an important safety net for business owners themselves, and support the local economy,” Ballantyne explained.
Main Street Alliance surveyed some 1,500 companies last year, and 64 percent supported passing a federal paid family leave bill. However, 84 percent said they couldn’t afford to offer paid leave under current laws.
The FAMILY Act proposes adopting a federal social insurance system similar to what some states already have on their books. And groups like Main Street say administrative and financial costs could be covered with a nominal payroll tax of 0.20 to 1 percent. “With a similar system in place on the federal level, small businesses can better compete with large companies, retain employees and rely on steadier consumer demand,” the Alliance explained.
It’s unclear whether the bill will have much traction in the Republican-led Congress. But one thing that should catch their ear is the growing chorus of small businesses which agree that legislation to protects workers’ access to paid family leave is also good for businesses’ bottom line. And that’s good not just for growing businesses, but for the national economy as well.
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