The oft-ballyhooed paid leave arms race taking place among technology companies is a sign of progress—and a distraction. The vast majority of Americans still contend with unforgiving, or non-existent, leave policies, including those who work for some of our country’s biggest companies.
For a new report, the paid-leave advocacy organization PL+US inquired into the paid leave policies of the 60 largest employers in the United States and found that the majority of them either offer no policy or refused to answer questions about their policies. Of the 27 companies whose policies they could confirm, Amazon, Bank of America, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young have the most expansive policies, and give mothers and fathers, including adoptive parents, 16 or more weeks of fully paid parental leave. Others at the top include Citigroup, General Electric, and Procter & Gamble, all of which offer 16 to 18 weeks for birth mothers, 4 to 12 weeks for birth fathers, and 4 to 16 weeks for adoptive parents.
Such efforts are often described as “generous”—including by me. But as I read this report and saw how little it takes to be praised in this manner, how this praise is earned for offering less time than the six months of leave recommended by the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the amount of time guaranteed by most industrialized countries around the world, and how many companies feel perfectly OK offering much less or nothing at all, it struck me that word “generous” is too fawning, and therefore too feeble, a term for this context. Large corporations that offer paid leave policies aren’t being generous, they are being just. Those that don’t are not.
The unjust include FedEx, which offers 5 weeks to birth mothers and nothing to birth fathers or adoptive parents, and J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and Marriott International, all which offer 6 weeks to birth mothers and nothing to birth fathers or adoptive parents. (PL+US obtained this data on an open-source website, and not directly from the companies themselves.) The exclusion of fathers was common among the policies PL+US surveyed. AT&T, CVS, General Motors, Ford, Starbucks, Supervalu, and Verizon all provide no paternity leave at all. PL+US also found anecdotal evidence suggesting that many employers only offer paid leave to salaried employees and leave hourly employees to fend for themselves following the birth or adoption of a child. Walmart is one example of this that they could confirm.
More egregious than having a crappy policy is refusing to discuss your policy altogether. Eight companies responded to PL+US’s inquiries by declining to share their policies, including Boeing, FedEx, Honeywell International, HP, Infosys Limited, Marriott International, TJX, and Walgreens. Other companies, like Gap and Costco Wholesale, which has a reputation for being progressive, didn’t respond at all.
“The fact that companies won’t disclose this information makes us wonder what they’re hiding. America’s top companies already share information about sustainability and other policies,” said Katie Bethell, Founder & Executive Director of PL+US, in an email. “It’s time for them to show whether they also value families.”
In conjunction with the report, PL+US is joining up with other advocacy organizations and launching an open letter to companies that haven’t disclosed their policies, calling for transparency. While I’m eager to hear how these companies defend themselves, nothing will be more telling than their original refusal to speak. That silence is proof that paid leave, a matter of human decency, can’t be left up to individual enterprises. Instead, we need government policies that ensure that everyone—birth mothers, birth fathers, and adoptive parents, along with those looking after spouses, parents, friends, or siblings—get the time off they need to care for others. Recent presidential election results have decreased the likelihood of any such policies getting passed on a federal level in the near future, but there are still plenty of gains to be made on the city and state levels.