In a survey conducted for DOL in 2012, two-thirds of those who took leave under FMLA said it was somewhat or very difficult to make ends meet. Research has shown that paid leave increases the likelihood of doctor visits and vaccinations for babies, extends the duration of breastfeeding, and has mental health benefits for mothers. With the move to extend paid leave to 26 weeks, parents are able to return to work when their babies have started solid foods, are possibly sleeping through the night, and are more used to routines.
Across the U.S. economy, more companies are adopting and expanding paid family leave, says Jeffrey Hayes of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. But these programs mostly come from large corporations with huge HR departments. “Many smaller businesses would like to provide their employees with paid leave by participating in a cross-employer pool, such as offered in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and soon, New York,” he says.
Hayes believes the U.S. will have a national policy at some point, but that we’re “probably a decade away in terms of distributing benefits.” In the meantime, he expects a few more states to adopt mandates; that could lead businesses with offices in multiple states to lobby for a uniform national policy.
Companies that have already committed to paid leave say they’re seeing big returns. Patagonia reports that 100 percent of its moms have returned from maternity leave over the past five years. Adobe, tracking 200 U.S. employees who have taken advantage of enhanced leave, says 98 percent have returned to work, compared to 75 percent previously. Employee satisfaction has shot up, says Adobe’s Morris, even among workers who haven’t directly benefitted.
“Some of the compliments we’ve gotten have been from employees who are finished having children, or aren’t even planning families,” she says. “They were super-supportive that this is how we invest in our people.”