Forging the path for better family leave

Despite America’s infamously skimpy parental leave policies, many organizations are realizing the value of paid maternity and paternity leave. You’ll be surprised by which companies offer great plans.

Catherine Delahaye | Getty Images

Too many hardworking employees across the U.S. know how difficult it is to cobble together parental leave time after having a child. It requires saving up vacation and even sick days to extend the time they spend at home with new babies or adopted children. And that’s still a better scenario than most American service industry workers, who get no paid leave at all.

So when Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich announced a new paid family leave policy for Archdiocese employees last week, moms and dads, teachers and administrators at Chicago’s Catholic schools, as well as the church and diocese staff members, all breathed a sigh of relief. Some even shed tears.

The plan now offers mothers and fathers “up to three months of fully paid parental leave,” with an option for an additional three months unpaid leave with job security. That means parents now have the option to spend a full year with their child before returning to work. The Chicago Archdiocese will off these new terms to its 7,000 eligible employees, which could mean it will pay for an estimated 200 paid parental leaves a year. According to the Chicago Tribune, no other American Catholic diocese offers this benefit.

Though the move is expected to cost the Diocese up to $1 million per year, it’s a decision that transcends money (which, of course, is easy to say, but hard to live out financially for any organization with employees to pay). This dramatic change speaks to the heart of the Catholic Church’s family values.

It’s wonderful news to see the Chicago Church putting families first, but more dioceses, American companies and other Christian organizations still have a long way to go toward meeting the needs of working parents. Currently U.S. law (under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993) mandates “12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborn or newly adopted children.” Additional paid medical or sick leave is granted by the individual employer, and only about 12 percent of American workers get paid leave (for various reasons). That’s a scarily low number. Especially when you compare it to Europe: the United Kingdom offers 52 weeks maternity leave, 39 of which are partially paid, reports CNN. Ireland offers 42 weeks (with 26 of them paid); and Italy offers 22 weeks of leave, all paid at 80 percent of earnings.

But when you consider how much it costs a company to provide paid leave (recall that reported $1 million estimate for just the 200 employees the diocese will need to cover per year), it’s not hard to understand why so many American businesses shy away from offering better new parent plans to their employees. It’s costly. But perhaps not providing the benefit is even more so. Not only to families everywhere who need the time to bond and grow strong together, but to companies themselves.

This is what Tom’s shoes founder Blake Mycoskie learned when he took advantage of his own company’s paternity leave policy, and quickly garnered national attention for talking about his parental leave experience publicly and raising awareness about the issue. Though Mycoskie’s colleagues assumed he’d grow bored and restless during his 12-week leave (Tom’s offers 8 weeks paid leave with flex time upon return), instead Mycoskie says he just plain grew.

The t shirt says it all!

A photo posted by blake mycoskie (@blakemycoskie) on

“Little did I know just how much I’d grow—as a dad, a husband, and an executive—in those three short months,” Mycoski said while sharing the lessons he learned during paternity leave with Glamour magazine.

Mycoskie says he learned three essential things on his parental leave:

1. “The truly dedicated dare to unplug.”

2. “To take good care of others, first take good care of yourself.”

3. “Need a creative boost? Fall in love.”

These lessons not only benefited him, his wife, and their new son, but also his company. Mycoskie feels it reignited his passion for work. He now challenges other CEOs to offer paid family leave benefits to see the difference themselves.

Thankfully, Mycoskie isn’t alone. A few other companies are starting to realize the benefits of offering better family leave options—and even taking it much further than Tom’s plan. Hopefully these smart companies inspire more and more businesses to show new parents and families the respect and time off they deserve:

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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