Microsoft today did what many consider a good thing: It escalated its paid leave for new mothers and fathers. But before we dive into the details of Microsoft’s plan, let’s take a 6,700-mile trip across the Pacific to provide some context.
There you’ll find Papua New Guinea, an island nation that differs from the U.S. in many ways. Papua New Guinea’s gross domestic product is about $15.41 billion; America’s is $17.42 trillion. A Papua New Guinean born today is expected to live 62 years, while Americans’ life expectancy is 79. Its 7.7 million residents speak more than 800 languages; the 315 million Americans speak 216.
America does have one thing in common with Papua New Guinea, though — according to World Bank data, they’re the only nations that don’t require paid maternity leave. Thus, when a company such as Microsoft announces it’s allowing more time off for employees following the birth of their children, and paying them during that time off, it is a sign of goodwill, because the government’s not requiring it.
Microsoft’s new policy is progressive (again, by U.S. standards). Beginning in November, birth mothers are eligible for 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, and fathers can take 12 fully paid weeks off.
“We believe it’s our responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work,” Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources, said in a blog post. “A key component of this is supporting our employees with benefits that matter most to them. This is why today we’re announcing enhancements to our U.S. corporate employee benefits in three areas that employees consistently rank among the most important: having time to renew; saving for the future; and flexibility needed to spend time with new children.”
The announcement is dulled by Netflix’s unveiling of unlimited maternity and paternity leave a day prior, but Microsoft’s new policy is robust. Only 35 percent of American employees work for a company that offers paid maternity leave, and 20 percent for companies with paid paternity leave. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies offer 12 weeks of parental leave, but it doesn’t require companies pay employees while they’re gone, and firms with fewer than 50 employees are exempt. States can require paid parental leave, but Washington doesn’t. In total, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 11 percent of workers are covered by paid parental leave policies.
Microsoft’s new plan is one of the best in America, and it’s getting into the realm of international acceptance. Were Microsoft headquartered in, Sweden, its employees would receive 480 days of parental leave at 80 percent pay (though the government, not the employer, would foot the bill). Most European nations foot the bill for parental leave, but among African nations, 18 of which mandate at least 14 weeks of fully-paid leave, most require employers to pay.
Life just got easier for new parents at Microsoft. But if 20 paid weeks off isn’t enough, parents should consider moving abroad. Just cross Papua New Guinea off the list.