Commentary: I watched the news of the Supreme Courts ruling on same-sex marriage earlier this summer with a mix of joy and interest. Joy for the millions of Americans who can now enjoy the same legal rights to marriage that most of us have always taken for granted. And interest on behalf of benefit decision-makers, some of whom are now faced with the thorny issue of whether or not to drop domestic-partner benefits coverage.
But the same-sex marriage ruling raises the broader issue of the changing nature of American families and, more importantly, the need for paid maternity and paternity leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act offers 12 weeks of job-protected leave for qualified medical and family reasons, its unpaid and its available only to those who work at companies with 50 or more employees. Moreover, in order to qualify, workers must be employed at the company for at least 12 months before being eligible to take FMLA leave.
Momentum is building for paid leave and progressive employers who want to attract and retain workers especially workers in the millennial generation who are moving into prime child-bearing years and, in general, looking for better integration between their work and family lives should take note.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act a proposal for paid family and medical leave from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a child, the serious illness of an immediate family member or a workers own medical condition. And while its unclear if this particular legislation will ever pass in the current Congress, the Obama Administration is clearly in favor of some type of paid leave program for families.
The federal government recently announced plans to offer states and municipalities $1.25 million in grants to research how paid leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island already offer paid leave programs covering private sector employers. Boston, meanwhile, recently signed an ordinance establishing up to six weeks of paid parental leave for city employees.
And private-sector employers are stepping up as well. In June, Nestlé announced its more than doubling its paid maternity leave from six weeks to 14 weeks of paid leave for employees worldwide. The change will be effective across the companys seven U.S. operating companies as of Jan. 1, 2016. The policy also extends to male employees and adoptive parents who are considered primary caregivers.
Judy Cascapera, Nestlé USAs chief people officer, told me the companys move was prompted in part by the need to retain employees. I don't know any company out there right now who's not in a battle to retain talent, she said, adding the family unit looks differently than before. We've got to step up.
Companies that step up sooner, rather than later, on paid parental leave will be better positioned to win the war for talent and will be ahead of the game administratively if and when paid leave is legislated.
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