Should companies offer better policies?

Executive Summary

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not require companies to offer paid leave to its workers to care for a baby, a sick relative or themselves. That is changing slowly, economists say, as more companies recognize that it makes business sense to provide paid leave to their employers. Silicon Valley, which is in a recruiting war with its tech rivals for the best talent, has taken the lead in offering more-generous time-off policies. But outside of the technology sector, many businesses—especially small ones—find it impractical or too expensive to offer paid leave. As few as 6 percent of low-wage earners can take paid maternity leave, and more than 40 percent of U.S. employees have no paid sick days.

Among the key takeaways:

  • In the absence of federal guidance on the issue, talent-hungry corporations are writing their own rules in an effort to recruit and retain skilled young employees.

  • President Trump during the 2016 campaign became the first Republican nominee to endorse paid maternity leave, but he has not pushed to enact such a policy.

  • One survey found that 45 percent of firms with fewer than 100 employees would support a mandatory leave policy funded through employer and employee payroll contributions.

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Resources for Further Study



Boushey, Heather, “Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict,” Harvard University Press, 2016. The executive director of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a research and grant-making organization, says a changing economy—one in which women work instead of stay home full time to raise their children—requires employers to provide the resources working mothers need to care for family members.

Gordon, Victoria . “Maternity Leave: Policy and Practice,” CRC Press, 2013. An associate political science professor at Western Kentucky University, who has interviewed women who took maternity leave, says there is a disconnect between policy and practice.

Sholar, Megan, “Getting Paid While Taking Time: The Women’s Movement and the Development of Paid Family Leave Policies in the United States,” Temple University Press, 2016. A Loyola University Chicago instructor explains the development of family leave policies in the United States, and notes that most innovations in family policies have originated at the state level.


Berman, Russell, “A Conservative Push for Paid Family Leave,” The Atlantic, Aug. 15, 2016, A journalist examines the efforts of Republican politicians, including President Trump, and conservative groups to encourage Congress to pass legislation providing for paid family leave.

Bernard, Tara Siegel, “In Paid Family Leave, U.S. Trails Most of the Globe,” The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2013, The writer explores why the United States is the only industrialized country without a mandatory paid leave law.

Miller, Claire Cain, “Americans Agree on Paid Leave, but Not on Who Should Pay,” The New York Times, March 23, 2017, A journalist questions why the nation has not enacted a mandatory paid leave policy when a majority of citizens on both sides of the political spectrum support it.

Murphy, Robert P., “‘Paid Family Leave’ Is a Great Way to Hurt Women,” Foundation for Economic Education, June 2, 2015, A Texas Tech University professor argues that paid family-leave policies should be voluntary, not mandatory. Businesses, he said, know better than the government how to structure their employee benefits for recruitment and retention purposes, he writes.

Rogers, Megan, “Why New York businesses oppose paid family leave proposal,” Albany Business Review, March 25, 2015, A journalist summarizes interviews with business leaders who believe small businesses cannot afford overtime costs associated with mandatory paid family leave.

Warner, Judith, and Danielle Corley, “In the Absence of U.S. Action on Paid Leave, Multinationals Make Their Own Policies,” Center for American Progress, Nov. 17, 2016, Researchers at a liberal Washington think tank examine a trend among multinational companies to create policies for paid time off that apply to their employees, no matter where in the world they work.

Reports and Studies

“Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies,” Pew Research Center, March 23, 2017, A nonpartisan “fact tank” finds that most Americans support paid leave but believe that employers, and not the federal or state governments, should pay for it.

“The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave,” Council of Economic Advisers, June 2014, The White House agency dealing with economic policy concludes that businesses would benefit from offering paid family leave to more workers because employees would be more productive on the job and retention of talented workers would increase.

“Employer Costs for Employee Compensation—December 2016,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, March 17, 2017, In 23 pages of charts, the federal agency reveals the costs of compensation and benefits for employees of private- and public-sector employees. Paid leave, the report notes, accounted for 6.9 percent of private industry compensation.

“Paid Time Off Programs and Practices,” WorldatWork, September 2016, In a survey of its members, the human resources trade association discovered that 88 percent believe offering some type of paid time-off program is necessary for an organization to be competitive in the labor market.

“Why Paid Family Leave Is Good Business,” Boston Consulting Group, Feb. 7, 2017, The management consulting firm reviewed the policies of more than 250 companies and interviewed 25 human resource executives at large organizations. The report’s conclusion: Employers espouse a strong business case for paid family leave, which they say helps attract and retain qualified employees.

Gitis, Ben, “The Earned Income Leave Benefit: Rethinking Family Leave for Low-Income Workers,” American Action Forum, Aug. 15, 2016, The director of labor market policy for a conservative research group breaks with Republican tradition and proposes a paid-leave benefit for workers with annual incomes lower than $28,000.

Ray, Rebecca, Milla Sanes and John Schmitt, “No-Vacation Nation Revisited,” Center for Economic and Policy Institute, May 2013, This report reviews laws in 21 “rich” countries that require paid vacations and holidays.

Zagorsky, Jay L., “Divergent Trends in US Maternity and Paternity Leave, 1994-2015,” American Journal of Public Health, March 2017, An economist and research scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research discovers that the number of women who take maternity leave has not grown in 22 years.

The Next Step

Company Policies

Bort, Julie, “Sheryl Sandberg on tragically losing her husband: ‘I’m a different person now,’” Business Insider, April 24, 2017, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose husband died unexpectedly two years ago, announced in February that Facebook employees will receive up to 20 days paid annual leave to mourn an immediate family member’s death, and 10 days to mourn for an extended family member.

Kharpal, Arjun, “Tech firms are giving staff paid leave for political engagements amid fear of immigration crackdown,” CNBC, April 18, 2017, A technology startup company, reacting in part to President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, adopted a policy on April 18 that gives employees paid leave for political engagements, including protests.

Lewis, Cora, “Women Ironworkers Will Get Six Months Of Paid Maternity Leave,” BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2017, Following the lead of tech companies such as Adobe, Netflix and Spotify, the male-dominated ironworkers union now offers female employees up to six months maternity leave.

International Standards

Bruner, Raisa, “Chinese Workers at Factory for Ivanka Trump’s Clothing Maker Earn About $62 a Week: Report,” Time, April 25, 2017, The Fair Labor Association watchdog group found that Chinese factory workers who make clothing for Ivanka Trump’s brand worked excessive hours for below minimum wage last year and received only five paid leave days per year.

Millington, Alison, “Italy could soon offer women three days of paid menstrual leave each month,” Business Insider, March 29, 2017, The lower house of Italy’s parliament is considering a proposal that would allow women to take three paid leave days each month for any “painful periods” they experience.

Singhi, Namrata, “Microsoft India employees to get family caregiver leave,” The Times of India, April 24, 2017, Microsoft India announced that employees who need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition will receive four weeks annual paid leave; workers who adopt a child or have a child via surrogacy will receive 26 calendar weeks of paid leave; and paternity leave will increase to six weeks.


Blau, Reuven, “JetBlue hit with suit for violating New York paid sick leave law,” New York Daily News, April 1, 2017, New York City’s Consumer Affairs Department accuses JetBlue in a lawsuit of using progressive punishments – including possible termination – to discipline employees who called in sick.

Hopkins, Kathleen, “Ocean County judge sues, claims discrimination,” Asbury Park Press, April 25, 2017, A New Jersey Superior Court judge sued his two bosses, saying they tried to force him to resign because he has a 19-year-old son with multiple disabilities.

Salazar, Martin, “Lawsuit targets proposed sick leave ordinance,” Albuquerque Journal, April 3, 2017, Businesses and trade associations in Albuquerque, N.M., sued city officials, arguing a proposed sick leave ordinance is unconstitutional and would hurt businesses and the city’s economy.

State Legislation

Booker, Christopher, and Connie Kargbo, “Can Rhode Island’s paid family leave be a national model?” PBS NewsHour, April 16, 2017, Rhode Island taxes private-sector employees to finance a program that provides paid leave for part-time and full-time workers, a policy that smaller companies say may hurt productivity.

Dawson, James, “State lawmakers considering family leave bills,” Delaware Public Media, April 23, 2017, Delaware lawmakers are studying proposals that would give three months of paid leave to state employees who have worked full time for at least a year, and an additional six weeks of unpaid leave to mothers who are expecting twins and require hospitalization during pregnancy.

Sagarin, Susan, “D.C. Enacts Paid Family Leave But Lacks Funding For Implementation,” Bloomberg BNA, April 17, 2017, The District of Columbia’s Universal Paid Leave Act, which entitles employees to 90 percent of their salary while on leave, won approval from a congressional review board in April, but the city may not be able to afford it.


The American Action Forum
1747 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20006
A self-described center-right nonprofit that focuses on domestic policy challenges such as paid leave, health care and tax reform.

Center for American Progress
1333 H St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005
An independent, nonpartisan policy institute dedicated to developing new policy ideas in areas such as criminal justice, disability, the economy, education and women.

Center for Economic and Policy Research
1611 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009
An organization of economists who promote democratic debate on economic and social issues through professional research and public education.

Center for WorkLife Law
200 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102
Women’s leadership organization at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law that focuses on jumpstarting “the stalled gender revolution.”

Families & Work Institute
245 5th Ave., #1002, New York, NY 10016
A nonpartisan research organization that studies the changing workforce and workplace, as well as the changing family.

National Partnership for Women and Families
1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 650, Washington, DC 20009
Formerly known as the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, this nonpartisan organization promotes fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to affordable health care and work-family policies for working parents.

Pew Research Center
1615 L St., N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036
A nonpartisan “fact tank” that conducts public opinion polls and demographic research, and informs the public about issues involving politics, media, technology, religion, global attitudes and demographic trends.

PL+US (Paid Leave For the United States)
2973 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94110
A new advocacy organization whose mission is to win paid family leave by engaging Americans at the grass-roots level.

Work and Family Researchers Network
c/o the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 3620 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6302
A membership association of interdisciplinary work and family scholars that oversees an open-access work and family subject matter repository.

14040 N. Northsight Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 85260
A membership organization for human resources professionals that bills itself as “the total rewards association.” Its focus is compensation, benefits and work/life effectiveness.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680314.n1