The XX Factor

Major Employers Like Starbucks Shaft Low-Wage Workers When It Comes to Paid Parental Leave

The new father who might have written this lovely message gets no paid leave.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Only 13 percent of nongovernmental employees in America get any kind of paid parental leave, and they’re far more likely to have the benefit if they work at a major corporation. But even the nation’s largest employers, many of which have relatively generous leave policies in place, often make distinctions between white-collar corporate employees and hourly workers, leaving their lowest-paid employees to suffer financial setbacks when they become parents.

A new report from Paid Leave for the United States, a nonprofit that goes by PL+US, found that several of the country’s top employers have paid-leave policies that reward higher-paid office employees while ignoring those who work in stores or restaurants. Walmart, the largest employer in the U.S., offers birth mothers 12 weeks of paid leave if they’re corporate employees. Meanwhile, its 1.2 million hourly workers only get six to eight weeks of partial pay if they’re birth mothers who work full time. In-store employees who work less than full time get nothing.

Starbucks offers one of the starkest examples of the different worlds corporate America creates for employees who work behind desks instead of counters. The company earned public plaudits for increasing its paid leave offering earlier this year: Starting in October, birth mothers who are corporate employees can take 18 weeks of fully-paid leave, and non–birth parents can take up to 12 weeks. But store employees, including baristas, will only get six weeks paid leave if they’re birth mothers who work more than 20 hours a week and none at all if they’re fathers, adoptive parents, or another non-birthing parent. The corporate-employee policy is fantastic, but it only applies to 3 percent of Starbucks employees in the U.S.

PL+US confirmed that several other companies offer unequal paid family leave to employees based on their status within the company, including McDonalds, Supervalu, AT&T, Yum!Brands (which owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell), and Darden Restaurants (which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse). A new mother who works the Taco Bell drive-thru, for instance, will get no paid leave after she gives birth. If she worked an office job, she’d get 18 weeks paid if she gave birth and six weeks if she was a non-birthing parent. Four other companies—Amazon, Nike, Marriott, and Toys R Us—confirmed that they don’t offer paid leave to any parents who work hourly part-time jobs.

“Our research shows that it is common practice to leave large proportions of the workforce at many of these companies out of the generous benefits touted in press releases—by excluding hourly, field, part time or other classes of low-wage employees,” the PL+US report states. “We further found evidence that the outsourcing of work to low-wage, low-margin sub-contractors by many large employers”—Amazon, for one—“furthers the schism between those who have access to paid family leave and those who do not.”

The report also notes that workers who make more than $75,000 a year are twice as likely to have access to paid family leave than people making less than $30,000 a year, who are far less likely to be able to amass the savings required for unpaid leave while recovering from childbirth or learning to take care of a new child. Among the people in the latter bracket who don’t get paid leave, half end up seeking public assistance to keep their lives together while they take unpaid leave, cut back on hours, or search for an alternate solution.