- Employer parental leave policies may contribute to gender inequality by favoring leave for women over men, according to a study published Aug. 6 in the Community, Work and Family journal. The research also reveals that Fortune 500 companies are leading the pack in providing paid parental leave policies. It's the first study to systematically compare parental leave policies offered by top U.S. companies, co-authors Davidson College sociology professor Gayle Kaufman and Ball State University sociology professor Richard Petts stated in the report. "When companies have gender unequal paid parental leave policies, they are signaling that mothers are the ones who should take time off while fathers are simply helpers or secondary parents, not to mention the dismissal of gay and lesbian couples," Kaufman told HR Dive in an email.
- Paid parental leave policies are common among the highest revenue companies, according to the research. About 72% of the 353 companies of which the authors obtained full data had a paid parental leave policy for employees. The authors verified through a website or confirmed by phone or email that 24 additional companies in the data set provided some form of paid parental leave. In all, 74% of Fortune 500 companies that provide information on leave provided some form of paid parental leave to employees.
- However, most Fortune 500 companies that offer paid leave tend to have longer parental leaves for mothers, according to the study. Overall, mothers on average receive 10 weeks of leave. Meanwhile, fathers, on average receive less than five weeks of leave. But fathers receive the longest average leaves in companies classified as having gender equal policies (eight weeks) and gender modified policies (nine weeks), according to the report.
As working parents make back-to-school plans deciding between in-person school and online learning options, employees seek flexibility as the relevance of paid leave policies remains at the forefront.
"Fortune 500 companies, particularly the largest companies and tech companies, are more likely to offer paid parental leave, [but] keep in mind only 18% of private industry employees have access to paid family leave," Kaufman told HR Dive. "The fact that many of the top companies in the U.S. don't offer paid parental leave is bad news for their employees."
The 500 companies that made the Fortune's 2020 list represent "two-thirds of the U.S. economy, with $14.2 trillion in revenue," according to Fortune. "Companies should absolutely invest in their employees and offering paid parental leave is one way of doing this that also tends to pay dividends for the company in terms of recruitment and retention," Kaufman said. Companies with headquarters in a state that offers paid family leave are more likely to offer paid parental leave, according to the study. "Still, part of the problem with the U.S. is the reliance on industry over government to take up employer policies that will benefit individuals, families and ultimately society," Kaufman said.
But as Fortune 500 companies decide upon paid parental leave policies, more focus may need to be placed on whether or not the policies are gender unequal, according to Kaufman. "This can result in gender inequality in carework, which often then persists past the first year," Kaufman said. "This can then, in turn, have a negative impact on women's advancement in the workplace. These policies, that are often meant to help women remain in the workplace, would be more effective if they treated all parents equally."
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government passed an unprecedented paid leave law to accommodate the calls for social distancing. TAt companies with fewer than 500 employees, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expands was created to expand family and medical leave and guarantee paid sick leave for U.S. workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees. As the pandemic has continued, however, the limited nature of the law has required new guidance from the government. However, guidance released Aug. 27 by the U.S. Department of Labor explained that if a parent chooses online learning for a child where in-person instruction is an option, the parent may not take paid leave under FFCRA, with some exceptions.