Mercer: Shifting Attitudes Reflected in Family Leave Policies

By Kathy Gurchiek Sep 6, 2016
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Maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies are undergoing a shift as companies and governments make adjustments to address changing demographics and societal norms, according to a recent report from Mercer that looked at practices in 50 countries. 

Among the considerations for employers when instituting a global leave policy, according to Mercer's 2016 Global Parental Leave report:

*Federal and state legislation.

*How to provide policies that are generous but cost-effective.

*Avoiding unintended consequences, such as policies that inadvertently discourage women from returning to the workforce or offer leave to fathers in cultures where use of paternity leave is looked upon negatively and could hurt the man's career growth.

"The complexity of different local statutory requirements, along with administrative intricacies, may make a global parental leave policy seem impractical," said Ilya Bonic, senior partner and president of Mercer's talent business, in a news release.

Despite these concerns, Bonic said, some compelling reasons have prompted companies to consider a global parental leave policy. They include the desire to create a level playing field for employees in all countries and advancing organizational strategies to accommodate a more diverse workforce, with benefits available to all employees regardless of gender and family structure.

According to new research to be released this month by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), organizations with some of their workforce based outside of the U.S. were more likely to offer maternity leave compared to those that were solely U.S.-based (27 percent and 13 percent, respectively).

Among companies with a global policy, Mercer found that 29 percent cover all four types of leave—maternity, paternity, adoption and parental, the latter which provides leave regardless of the employee's gender.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of those offering maternity leave provide it only to the birth mother, 24 percent offer it to the birth mother or primary caregiver regardless of gender, and 12 percent offer it to the birth mother or primary female caregiver, such as a grandmother. Among those offering paternity leave, more than half (54 percent) offer it to the birth father, 34 percent offer it to the birth father or primary caregiver regardless of gender, and 12 percent offer it to the birth father or primary male caregiver, such as a grandfather. 

Paternity Leave

Mercer's report indicates that attitudes toward paternity leave are shifting. Forty-two percent of companies surveyed around the world encourage employees to take paternity leave, and 44 percent reported that eligible employees use their statutory paternity leave.

"Paternity leave is not a statutory requirement in many countries," meaning that employers are not mandated by law to provide the leave, "but it is common for companies to provide two to five days of paid paternal leave at the time of birth," Mercer noted in its report.

In some global areas, such as in Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 41 percent of companies provide above the statutory minimum.

"Criteria for leave eligibility vary by policy type, country and company. On the whole, the view of family and gender roles is more progressive" in catering to the changing workforce, "when defining eligibility for paternity leave," according to the report. 

"In terms of gender equality, it is becoming just as important for fathers to have leave to bond with their newborn," a Mercer spokeswoman explained. Additionally, "women have advanced into leadership roles and may not want to take leave, and same-sex families have become more commonplace and accepted."

Mercer found the top 10 countries with the highest percentage of companies that provide paternity leave above the statutory requirements are:
  • United States.
  • Australia.
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada.
  • India.
  • Hong Kong.
  • Argentina.
  • Singapore.
  • Japan.
  • Ireland.

Country rankings were based on weighted statistics within the global database, which was made up of 50 countries. Only 12 percent of U.S. workers are offered paid paternity leave through their employers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, the U.S. made the top 10 because it, like some other countries, does not have a statutory requirement that companies provide paternity leave. Any paternity leave provided is considered about the statutory minimum, a Mercer spokeswoman explained.

Among industries, high tech and banking/financial services had the highest percentages of companies, worldwide, that are planning to increase the amount of paternity leave they offer, Mercer found.

Paternity leave got a lot of U.S. media attention in 2015 when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he was taking two months off for the birth of his child. While he planned to take only half of the four months of paid parental leave that Facebook offers to male and female employees, his decision sparked a national discussion.

And a survey released in June found that 95 percent of 320 fathers who were surveyed in May think they should have fully paid paternity leave; 70 percent think it should be for four or more weeks.

In the U.S.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act mandates 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave to full-time workers at organizations with more than 50 employees, but many U.S. workers cannot afford to take the time off.

Etsy—a U.S.-based online retailer—made headlines when it broadened its parental leave policy in May. Its offers 26 weeks of paid leave to an employee who becomes a parent through birth or adoption. The leave is available regardless of the employee's gender, country of residence or family circumstance.

And a parental leave bill now before the California legislature would require employers with 20 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace to offer baby-bonding leave, SHRM Online reported Aug. 30. The leave could be unpaid, but employees would be entitled to apply accrued vacation pay, paid sick time or other accrued paid time off during the leave.

Organizations looking to offer a paid parental leave policy can find a SHRM template here.


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