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Paid Family Leave Gains Ground For Private, Public Sector Workers


Paid family leave is something that's not widely available to most American workers, though, this year, that started to change. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has more.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Heather Reams worked at an Alexandria, Va. nonprofit when her daughter was born six years ago. There was no official maternity leave policy. And two months after giving birth, she started getting emails from the office.

HEATHER REAMS: I was a little bit taken aback that I was asked to come back. I ended up feeling the pressure and coming back at week 10.

NOGUCHI: Reams eventually left after being told no more maternity leaves in the future. When she started looking for a new job, she wanted an employer that offered maternity leave and...

REAMS: Had good benefits, that was clear in its policy.

NOGUCHI: Looking at the expansions in leave policies now, Reams says she wishes it had been available to her.

REAMS: I would have certainly taken advantage of all the paid leave that I could get.

NOGUCHI: Vicki Shabo is vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

VICKI SHABO: We are in a tremendously different place than 12 months ago.

NOGUCHI: Earlier this year, Netflix, Nestle, Marriott and Hilton all expanded their leave policies. This month, eBay did, and before that, Credit Suisse.

SHABO: The week before that, around Thanksgiving, Facebook announced the four-month paid leave for all new parents across the globe. The week before that, Spotify announced six months of paid leave. The week before that, Zillow announced 16 weeks of maternity leave and eight weeks of paternity leave.

NOGUCHI: But for all the high-profile announcements, only a small minority of U.S. workers get paid leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says only 75 percent of full-time workers have paid sick leave. And only 13 percent have paid family leave. Shabo says some of those companies said the benefits would apply to their hourly as well as their salaried employees. But for the most part, it's a benefit that applies to white-collar workers. Tom Spiggle, a Virginia employment attorney, agrees.

TOM SPIGGLE: For many parents, leave, if it's not paid leave, is not leave 'cause they can't afford to be without a paycheck.

NOGUCHI: He says historically, federal policy led the way in expanding parental leave. Now, it's states and cities. Three states have paid leave laws, and more are considering them. Portland and Seattle already require employers with workers in those cities to offer paid leave. Most notably, he says, in Washington, D.C., the City Council is considering a bill to give workers in the city 16 weeks of paid family leave.

SPIGGLE: That's such a broad law, and it provides so many protections. It could be a game changer for this kind of legislation.

NOGUCHI: Many experts say there is a shift taking place and that it's generational. Millennials in their childbearing years are demanding work-life balance, which is forcing companies to adjust. Take for example Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent decision to take two months of paternity leave. Many prospective parents, however, are not able to set their own terms. Georgene Huang was job hunting early in her pregnancy two years ago and felt sheepish about asking about maternity leave during interviews.

GEORGENE HUANG: I certainly didn't feel like I could ask the question - you know, what is your leave policy? - because I felt that that was risking too much in terms of potentially being stigmatized or just viewed negatively.

NOGUCHI: So she cofounded a site called Fairygodboss, where women could anonymously post about their experiences with employers, including maternity leave. Huang, who is 35, says she feels younger women are less afraid to ask the question.

HUANG: The younger you are, the more willing you are to challenge the status quo.

NOGUCHI: And, she says, that's why she believes the status quo is in flux. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.