Over the coming year, Microsoft will implement a policy requiring its suppliers in the US to provide their employees a minimum of 12 weeks paid parental leave, paid at up to $1,000 per week, Dev Stahlkopf, Corporate Vice President and General Counsel at Microsoft, announced in a blog post on Thursday:
This change applies to all parents employed by our suppliers who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The new policy applies to suppliers with more than 50 employees and covers supplier employees who perform substantial work for Microsoft. This minimum threshold applies to all of our suppliers across the U.S. and is not intended to supplant a state law that is more generous. Many of our suppliers already offer strong benefits packages to their employees, and suppliers are of course welcome to offer more expansive leave benefits to their employees.
Our new supplier parental leave requirement is informed by important work on paid parental leave done in states, including Washington. In 2017, Washington state passed family leave legislation, including paid parental leave. This new law will take effect in 2020. As we looked at this legislation, however, we realized that while it will benefit the employees of our suppliers in Washington state, it will leave thousands of valued contributors outside of Washington behind. So, we made a decision to apply Washington’s parental leave requirement more broadly, and not to wait until 2020 to begin implementation.
Like other major US tech companies, Microsoft relies on an undisclosed number of workers employed by third-party contractors; this so-called “shadow workforce” of contract laborers, who typically do not enjoy the same generous benefit packages as those directly employed by these companies, has been the subject of growing scrutiny and recent labor disputes, as GeekWire’s Nat Levy points out. Microsoft has faced controversy over its contingent workforce in the past, most notably in a high-profile lawsuit by “permatemps” in the 1990s. The company began putting standards on labor conditions at its US suppliers in 2015, when it began requiring that those with 50 or more employees grant a minimum of 15 days of annual paid time off to eligible employees.
Microsoft’s latest move intersection of several broad trends shaping the benefits space in the US today.
World map showing availability of government-mandated paid paternity leave (World Policy Center)
With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new analysis from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.
The paternity leave data came from the World Policy Analysis Center, which has published an interactive map and chart where it can sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.
Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:
A member of Parliament in the UK is pushing for employers to be more proactive in clarifying their parental leave policies to their current and prospective employees, introducing a bill that would require many organizations to publish their policies online, the BBC reported on Wednesday:
Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem MP, said this was “a simple and practically effortless change” that would improve transparency and encourage more competition on pay. It would help firms “better attract and retain talent”, she added. Human resources trade body the CIPD said publication could help tackle discrimination.
Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers. … The MP has tabled a bill in the Commons that would require firms with more than 250 employees to publish those policies. Prospective employees would have a clearer idea of parental leave policies without having to ask at interview, she said.
In arguing for her bill, Swinson noted that “the very act of asking” about parental leave “suggests to the employer that the candidate may be considering having a child.” A recent survey of UK employers found that most expected women candidates to disclose if they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and many managers would decline to hire a woman of childbearing age on that basis. Publishing these policies would enable candidates and employees to find out about them without having to reveal their intent to have children to a manager who might penalize them for it.
There is really no good reason for employers not to advertise their parental leave policies, as these and other family benefits are highly attractive to many candidates—particularly, but by no means exclusively, women. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that the availability of parental leave has a significant positive impact on employees’ perceptions of their overall benefits package. A lack of family-friendly policies is often a key factor in driving women out of the workforce. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.)
Like other Scandinavian countries, Denmark has a robust social welfare system that supports gender parity in society and the workplace through benefits like subsidized child care and a generous parental leave entitlement for working mothers and fathers. Yet women still make up a small minority of top-level executives in Denmark’s business community, while Danish women’s earnings still lag well behind those of men performing similar work.
In a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, Bodil Nordestgaard Ismiris, VP at the Danish Association of Managers and Executives, shed some light on this disconnect and suggested some reasons why Denmark’s progressive institutions have not automatically resulted in gender parity.
One problem is that Danish women suffer a motherhood penalty just like women in other countries: Their earnings drop after the birth of their first child and never recover, whereas fathers’ earnings hold steady. Other scholars have pointed to this paradox in the Scandinavian system, wherein working mothers are offered generous parental leave entitlements, but end up harming their lifetime earning potential by spending lengthy periods of time either out of the workforce or in part-time “mommy track” jobs that pay little and offer no room for advancement.
To help correct this imbalance, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries offer fathers generous parental leave as well. In the case of Denmark, Ismiris explains, new parents get 52 weeks of leave with at least partial pay, which they can divide anyway they like; new mothers are also guaranteed 18 weeks of this at full pay, while fathers are guaranteed two weeks. Despite the law encouraging couples to share parental leave, however, in practice women take the bulk of that leave: 300 days on average, compared to just 30 days among men. That means women are still taking on the majority of household and child care duties—and making greater career sacrifices to do so.
Uber is rolling out new benefits for drivers working through its platform in Europe, including sick pay, paid parental and bereavement leave, and compensation for work-related injuries, the BBC reported this week:
The insurance and compensation package will be available to all Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers across Europe. However, unions have questioned whether the package is new. In April 2017, Uber announced illness and injury insurance cover for its drivers. Uber drivers who wanted to join the scheme were required to pay £2 a week. …
Uber will provide drivers with a range of insurance coverage and compensation resulting from accidents or injuries that occur while they are working, as well as protection for “major life events” that happen whether the driver is on a shift or not. … Drivers are not going to get the kind of benefits they would enjoy as employees but there will be a little something to help them deal with life’s ups and downs.
The announcement comes just a month before an appeals hearing in a London court regarding Transport for London’s decision last September to revoke Uber’s license to operate as a private car hire operator in the city, on the basis that its “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility.” Uber has been allowed to continue operating in London while it appeals the decision, as it is scheduled to do at Westminster Magistrates Court on June 25, the BBC notes.
The battle with Transport for London is just one of several Uber is fighting in the UK and continental Europe. Last November, the company lost an appeal against a ruling by a British employment tribunal that its drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and are in fact entitled to certain rights as employees, including paid leave, overtime, and a minimum wage. Uber contends that classifying its drivers as employees would fatally disturb its business model and prevent it from offering the flexibility in terms of work hours and location that most of its drivers consider a benefit. Critics contend that this is a false choice and that Uber could maintain that flexibility while offering drivers a fuller range of rights and protections. Uber is pursuing further appeals in that case.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen a growing number of organizations leverage their HR strategies as a means of enhancing their employer and consumer brands simultaneously. The idea behind this “HR-as-PR” strategy is to make the organization more attractive to candidates—a growing concern in a tight labor market—while also cultivating a reputation among increasingly values-focused millennial customers as a progressive or socially conscious company.
Viewed through this lens, Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Y. Hyman’s recent op-ed at the New York Times illustrates the emergence of a new theme in HR as PR: ensuring that different classes of employees enjoy equal access to benefits like parental leave:
Like so many companies before us, my company, Rent the Runway, had two tiers of workers. Our salaried employees — who typically came from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds — were given generous parental leave, paid sick leave and the flexibility to work from home, or even abroad. Our hourly employees, working in Rent the Runway’s warehouse, on the customer service team and in our retail stores, had to face life events like caring for a newborn, grieving after the death of a family member or taking care of a critically ill loved one without this same level of benefits.
I had inadvertently created classes of employees — and by doing so, had done my part to contribute to America’s inequality problem. …
Last month, PwC rolled out a $45 million investment in its employee wellness program, including a suite of new benefits for working parents, Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson reported at the time:
- $1000 bonus to all staff to spend on wellness-related activities;
- Four weeks of “Paid Family Care Leave” for all partners and staff to care for certain family member with serious health conditions;
- Eight weeks of paid parental leave for staff of any gender with a new child (currently six);
- New “Phased Return to Work” transition, with the option of new parents working 60% of hours, at full-time pay, for an additional four weeks following a block of paid parental leave;
- $25K reimbursement, per child, for adoption (currently $5K);
- $25K reimbursement, per child, for surrogacy (traditional and gestational) expenses;
- Pro bono membership to sittercity.com (childcare, housekeeping, pet care services);
- Six hours of free Eldercare consultation (home assessments, implementation of care, etc.)
These expanded benefits, which according to Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News will go into effect on July 1, mirror what many other large US employers are doing to make their family benefits more generous and more inclusive. The point of interest here is PwC’s Phased Return to Work program, which the professional services firm says is the first of its kind. Offering this benefit up-front and actively marketing it to employees avoids the trap wherein new parents are afraid to ask for the flexibility they need out of fear of being seen as uncommitted. Closing that loophole was the motivation for Adobe’s returning employee flexibility program, which allows employees returning from at least three months of leave to work a non-traditional schedule for at least four months and requires all returnees to meet with their manager and HR to discuss this option.
Paying employees a full-time salary to work only part-time may sound absurd on its face, but we’ve seen a few other organizations experiment with shorter workdays in recent years. PwC’s policy will be worth watching, as it will provide another data point in how a limited workweek affects employee productivity, particularly among the highly stressed cohort of new parents.