Netflix received lots of praise earlier this month when it announced its new policy of "unlimited" paid parental leave for it's employees. Microsoft and Adobe soon followed suit by expanding their own paid parental leave policies.
Many observers wondered if the new policies at the tech giants indicated a positive trend in how American corporations treat employees who happen to be new parents.
Instead, these policies expose the urgent need for a national standard on paid parental leave.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich had this to say about Netflix's new policy:
But before we celebrate the dawn of a new era, keep two basic truths in mind.
First, these new policies apply only to a tiny group considered “talent” — highly educated and in high demand. They’re getting whatever perks firms can throw at them in order to recruit and keep them.
“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field,” Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s chief talent officer, wrote in a company blog.
That Neflix has a “chief talent officer” tells you a lot.
Netflix’s new policy doesn’t apply to all Netflix employees, by the way. Those in Netflix’s DVD division aren’t covered. They’re not “talent.” They’re like the vast majority of American workers — considered easily replaceable.
Employers treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed. Replaceable workers almost never get paid family leave; they get a few paid sick days and barely any vacation time.
If such replaceables are eligible for 12 weeks of family leave, it’s only because the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (which I am proud to have implemented as labor secretary under Bill Clinton) requires it.
But time granted by the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t come with pay, which is why only 40 percent of eligible workers can afford to use it. And it doesn’t cover companies or franchisees with fewer than 50 employees.
Almost all other advanced nations provide three or four months paid leave — to fathers as well as mothers — plus paid sick leave, generous vacation time and limits on how many work hours employers can demand.
The second thing to know about the new family-friendly work policies is that relatively few talented Millennials are taking advantage of them.
They can’t take the time.
Netflix's new policy has exposed a rift in the American workplace. Only highly-valued "talent" gets the benefit of paid parental leave. And many of those employees are afraid to take advantage of their paid parental leave because of the highly competitive nature of their work, fearing that starting a family might be viewed as a lack of commitment to their company's success.
A national standard on paid parental leave would level the playing field for all workers and create a sense of normalcy around taking time off of work to be present in the first few vital months of a child's life.