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Paid Family Leave Looms Large for Employers In 2022

The future of national paid family leave in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan remains in doubt, but it will be hard for employers to ignore or dismiss this issue next year.

baby gd91b043c3 640The U.S. is the only affluent nation with no national paid family leave scheme, Strategy+Business reports. One major concern for executives about paid family leave is how they will cover the work for employees on leave, but Josh Levs, a business consultant and former journalist, contends this assumption doesn’t hold up well.

“Most workers are actually happy to support their colleagues who go out on family leave,” Levs writes, citing a Finance Buzz survey from September 2020. The survey notes that 50% of employees would be glad to put in the extra hours for parents on paid leave. Earlier studies also find overall support is strong as well, says Levs,who also wrote "All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—and How We Can Fix It Together.”

“I’ve found that the positive effects often come partly from employees having a good feeling about the business allowing the leave, and partly from the sense of teamwork instilled by coworkers having one another’s backs,” Levs notes. “Also, when people—especially those in higher ranks—take family leave, it gives lower-ranking workers a chance to step up and demonstrate their leadership skills.”

Last month, the House of Representatives passed its Build Back Better bill with only Democratic support. The bill includes for weeks of paid family and medical leave. Still, the four weeks is much less than the 12 paid weeks in an earlier version of the plan, CNBC reports. The future of the proposal in the Senate is still in doubt primarily due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va). There is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, so even one Democratic defection could tank the bill. 

Regardless of how Congress acts on paid family leave, the COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened for employees the importance of employers who look out for their well-being. Only 40% of employers in the U.S. offer the benefit to both mothers and fathers, Employee Benefit News reports, citing a survey by Mercer.

Kinside, a childcare benefits provider, reveals in its research that 42% of companies plan to grow or add childcare as part of its employee benefits after seeing how parents were impacted by the pandemic. Nearly 30% of women with a child under 18 abandoned their jobs during the pandemic, with employers really feeling the impact and cost, notes Brittney Barrett, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Kinside. But there are opportunities, she adds.

“The expense of the attrition and retraining some of your most qualified employees is part of the reason why it's so important—also, the move away from physical offices has reduced the overhead for a lot of employers," Barrett says. “So the funds that may have previously been spent on things like office snacks, happy hours or events can now be put toward things that are more elemental to the lives of their staff, like a child care benefit.”

Only a few states--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, and Washington D.C.--offer paid family leave, despite a recent poll by CBS that found 73% of Americans back some type of federal paid family and medical leave policy, Employee Benefit News reports.

Paid family leave could “be a massive differentiator and strong selling-point during the recruitment process, since only 16% of private-industry workers have access to some sort of paid maternity leave,” EBN notes.

More than 2.3 million women left their jobs between February 2020 and February 2021, Bloomberg reports, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Paid leave for men garnered a lot of attention and negative reaction from some men this year following Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s decision to take paternity leave. Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir Technologies and a well-known venture capitalist, had tweeted last month that any high profile man taking off six months to care for their child is “a loser.”

The Society for Human Resource Management found that 44% of 2,504 human resources professionals surveyed said their employers had paid paternity leave last year. That compares with 21% in 2016.

Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, adopted their twins, Penelope Rose and Joseph, in August with Buttigieg announcing that month that he was going on leave. “We’re almost the only country left in the world that doesn't have some kind of policy … and when parents take that parental leave, they need to be supported,” Buttigieg said. “If there’s this idea that maybe men have access to paternity leave but it’s frowned on if they actually use it… that carries with it this assumption that the woman’s going to do all the work.”

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