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American Express Is the Latest Big Name to Upgrade Its Parental Leave Policy

Dad enjoying quality time with daughter & bady

Dad enjoys quality time with his children in the park Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

American Express is the latest big name to join the ranks of the parentally favored. The credit card giant announced on Monday that it will be offering up to 20 weeks of paid leave, starting January 1, 2017.

Could it be that corporate America is finally be warming to the idea that a life-work balance is as important as job satisfaction and pay rate?

Earlier this month, Ikea rolled out the details of its own upgraded plan, which includes four months of unpaid leave to all of its 13,000 hourly and salaried workers.

In October, Chobani said it would offer six weeks of 100 percent paid parental leave to all moms and dads with a newborn, as well as to those who have adopted or fostered a child, and Stonyfield also offers up to six months paid maternity leave (for new mothers only).

"Big companies are using paid parental leave policies as a form of compensation to draw highly skilled workers," said Ben Gitis, director of labor market policy at the American Action Forum, adding that the trend is particularly notable among tech companies.

Paid family leave has grown 20 percent in the private sector since 2010, said Gitis, noting that more big companies are expected to follow suit.

And employees are big fans.

"For my partner to have a month of paid paternity leave was an incredible gift to our family," said Kirsten Clodfelter, a mother of two young children in Louisville, Kentucky. "It took the entire month for us to fall into a routine as a new family of four, and having two parents at home facilitated a much easier and healthier adjustment for our preschooler. It also enabled me to not be run absolutely ragged, especially since I was still working from home part-time with a newborn."

Some of the Bigger Names Offering Generous Plans

Netflix

In summer 2015, Netflix announced that mothers and fathers would receive unlimited paid parental leave for up to one year following the birth or adoption of a child. That this offering applies to both moms and dads, and includes adoptive parents, makes it particularly outstanding in the current climate, but the policy originally included a major caveat: only salaried employees get the benefit, and it does not extend to hourly workers. Beginning in 2016, Netflix enabled hourly workers to also enjoy paid parental leave at 100 percent pay, though not for a up to a year, but for up to 12 to 16 weeks, depending on their department.

Facebook

In November of 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to his very own Facebook wall to announce that he would be taking two months of (obviously paid) paternity leave following the birth of his first child. Days later, Lori Matloff Goler, head of HR at Facebook, announced on her Facebook wall that Facebook would be extending its parental leave policy for full-time employees to cover four months of paid leave for all new parents, no matter their gender or location. Goler noted that the expanded benefit (which would not affect the existing maternity leave available to all its working moms worldwide) was introduced primarily with new fathers and people in same-sex relationships in mind.

Amazon

In November 2015, Amazon rolled out a parental leave policy that guaranteed new mothers four weeks of medical leave before delivery, followed by 10 weeks of paid maternity leave. New parents (dads included) who have worked at the company for at least a year became eligible for an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.

Johnson & Johnson

Starting in May of 2015, Johnson & Johnson launched an initiative that would allow new parents (maternal, paternal, and adoptive) to take eight weeks of paid leave during the first year of the family’s birth or adoption. The offering doesn't affect or replace J&J's other maternal leave policies, which allows moms 10 weeks of paid time off. So, moms can now take 17 weeks off, and dads can take eight weeks. Another perk is employees don't have to take this time off all at once. The policy didn't come into effect until May 2015, but was made retroactive to apply to any employee who became a parent in or after May 1, 2014.

Etsy

The e-commerce marketplace for sellers of handmade and vintage items announced last March that starting in April, Etsy employees would be eligible for 26 weeks of fully paid leave when they become a parent through birth or adoption. The policy was designed to apply to workers "regardless of their gender, country of residence or family circumstance."

Goldman Sachs

On its careers website, Goldman Sachs notes that it provides 16 weeks fully paid maternity leave. This includes four weeks of parenting leave at full pay if the employee is the primary caregiver (and up to four weeks for a non-primary care giver). The banking firm also provides fully paid adoption/surrogacy leave of up to 16 weeks.

Goldman also offers optional weekly expectant parent walk-through calls, on-site lactation rooms, 24-hour access to lactation consultants, and a maternity mentoring program. Goldman also provides a back-up child care program with on-site care in its New York and New Jersey offices. For its other offices, Goldman offers child care at near-site child care centers as well as in-home. Employees in all offices have access to in-home providers to care for mildly ill children and adult/elderly family members.

But Not Everyone Can Afford to Be Generous

While more large companies in the private sector will likely roll out generous parental leave policies to hone their competitive edge, Gitis finds some troubling realities. For one thing, low-wage and hourly workers are seldom offered such generous benefits as high-wage salaried workers.

"In terms of trends, what we know from official data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that paid parental leave is being provided by large employers for high-wage workers more than it is for for low-wage workers," said Gitis.

And there's a reason mammoth companies are topping these 'Best Of' lists: they can afford it; smaller businesses often can't afford such generosity.

"There are two costs to a business offering paid family leave," said Gitis. "The cost of paying the worker while they're on leave and the cost of keeping their job while they're away from the company, and this is a big deal for smaller companies. If you have five employees and you lose one for 12 weeks, that can be a huge loss."