News of Ikea’s new paid parental leave policy broke at the heels of an election cycle that heard more than ever from candidates and voters about working families’ issues, including paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and equal pay.
Under the plan, Ikea’s roughly 13,000 workers based in the United States will receive up to four months of paid parental leave. Mothers and fathers who are birth, adoptive, or foster parents are all eligible.
But what sets Ikea apart from other private-sector companies that have joined the race to offer the most comprehensive benefits packages?
Ikea’s plan treats salaried and hourly workers equally in granting all employees paid leave, unlike almost all existent paid family/parental leave plans. A recent study conducted by PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States found that of the top sixty U.S. employers, just twenty-nine confirmed paid family leave policies, and of those twenty-nine, twenty-two demonstrated unequal leave for fathers, adoptive parents, and as a newer finding, low-wage employees. The report noted,
Low-wage employees are being left out. Walmart, the largest employer in the country, confirmed that they provide paid leave only to salaried employees and not to hourly employees. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Walmart is not the only employer with this practice, making more research here a key area of future focus.
Despite a lingering research gap (in part due to a lack of transparency on the part of companies and their leave policies), people started to take heed of this benefit disparity as the equity issue it is in August 2015, when Netflix announced its new parental leave policy, which was lauded as “game-changing.” To be sure, Netflix’s policy was incredibly generous by American standards—it granted salaried workers in its Internet video services division up to a year of parental leave with full pay. It did not, however, cover hourly workers, which prompted widespread criticism. In response, Netflix granted some paid parental leave to its hourly workers—extending eligibility to their hourly-wage staffers in both their DVD-by-mail division (who can now receive up to twelve weeks of full pay following the birth/adoption of a baby) as well as in their customer service center (who can now receive up to fourteen weeks of paid paternity leave). As reported by Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press, working families activists commended the action, but believe the company has a ways to go:
“It is disappointing that Netflix is continuing their two-tiered system that says some parents deserve more time to bond with their children than others,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a women’s rights group. “We urge Netflix to put all parents on the same playing field, regardless of income, and expand their unlimited parental leave policy to all workers.”
Hilton Worldwide stands out as one of the only other companies that has a paid family leave program providing equal benefits to both salaried and hourly employees. As of January 2016, Hilton announced it would give all workers who are new parents—including fathers and adoptive parents—two weeks of paid leave. As a part of the policy, mothers giving birth receive an additional eight weeks of paid maternity leave, for a total of ten weeks off. Hilton’s policy is particularly significant within the hospitality industry, in which just 6 percent of workers have access to paid family leave.
However, the two-week timeframe granted to parents who are not birth mothers poses major problems for some more than others. For example, consider adoptive parents adjusting to caring for an infant in this timeframe, not to mention adoption paperwork and legal limitations that can make the process of actually taking a baby home multiple weeks long. Research has also shown us that longer family leave policies positively influence both mothers’ and babies’ health, childhood development, workplace equity, and economic stability; they also stand to combat income inequality, as those least likely to have generous paid leave policies (or any at all) are also those economically disadvantaged who need it the most.
Ikea’s new policy is revolutionary in that it is both affording parental leave equally to all types of employees and that it actually grants more adequate amounts of time off.
In this vein, Ikea’s new policy is revolutionary in that it is both affording parental leave equally to all types of employees and that it actually grants more adequate amounts of time off. Under the policy, set to take effect on January 1, all Ikea employees will receive six to eight weeks of fully paid short-term disability leave. Those who have been employees longer can accrue even more time off: workers who have been with Ikea for one to three years will receive full pay for six weeks of their time off, and then half of their pay for the next six weeks. Employees of three or more years can receive eight full paid weeks and eight half paid weeks. The new policy drastically expands Ikea’s previous mandate of just five days of paid leave for new parents and eight weeks of paid disability leave for new moms.
These policies—as well as others, notably in the technology and professional services industries, that grant paid leave to salaried workers—have surely both contributed to and come about by the uptick in rhetoric surrounding paid family/parental leave, medical leave, paid sick days, and equal pay by voters, legislators, and politicians.
A survey conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families tells us that a record high number of candidates for positions within both the executive and legislative branches discussed paid sick days, paid medical and family leave, discrimination against pregnant workers, and equal pay as a part of their platform in the 2016 election cycle. This included both major-party candidates and 54 percent of Senate candidates. Thirty-four percent of all congressional candidates gave these working-family issues space on their websites.
Polling data commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families, conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group, also found that almost two-thirds of voters said they heard “a lot” or “some” about these issues from candidates. And as it turns out, it was important to them: 56 percent of voters said they were more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and equal pay. Candidates whose websites dedicated content to these issues were 6 percent more likely to win. And 82 percent of surveyed voters said it is critical that the incoming administration and Congress work on new legislation that further these causes; 78 percent also spoke in favor of creating a family and medical leave fund that provides for twelve weeks of paid leave to care for an new child or ill family member.
In discussing the American political climate surrounding these issues, it is, of course, worth the reminder that Ikea’s native Sweden division grants sixty-eight weeks of paid leave to new parents—where the Swedish government subsidizes workers’ time off from work. Until the U.S. federal government decides it would like to lose its title of the only industrialized nation globally without paid parental leave, the private sector—led by inclusive policies such as Ikea’s—will be left to continue to fill the voids caused by a lack of adequate federal paid family/parental leave legislation.