Nationwide, nearly 87% of workers do not have access to paid family leave. Seeking to improve this statistic, White House officials and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez recently embarked on a national “Lead on Leave” road tour where they meet with workers, businesses and local officials to discuss the benefits of paid leave. “The world has changed, and policies have to change with it. That’s why we’re going around the country,” Perez told advocates in North Branford last week.
While HB 6932: An Act Concerning Paid Family and Medical Leave made great strides by passing two committees during the 2015 legislative session, the national movement calling for an increase in supportive workplace policies has especially struck Silicon Valley, where wealth disparities between tech industry gurus and the workers who maintain their buildings, serve their lunches, and clean their offices are particularly unpleasant.
Recently, two particular tech giants have made headlines by adopting their own initiatives to “lead on leave” and expand said benefits to contracted employees. Microsoft’s policy, for example, will ensure a minimum of 15 days of annual paid time off for eligible workers at suppliers with 50 or more employees throughout the U.S. The first of its kind at such a large scale, Microsoft announced in a blog post earlier in March that the benefit will apply to U.S. vendors who have worked for more than nine months (1500 hours) and who perform “substantial work for Microsoft.” Sensitive to the needs of small businesses, Microsoft will also initiate a consultation process with eligible suppliers in order to solicit feedback about the best ways to phase in specific details of the benefit.
Similar to Microsoft, Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg released a recent statement that the social media hub has also taken strides towards ensuring that its contractors – including janitors, cooks and countless other workers – receive important benefits, including 15 days of paid leave, $4,000 in additional support for parents who do not get paid parental leave, and a $15 minimum hourly wage.
“Taking these steps is the right thing to do for our businesses and our community. Women, because they comprise about two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationally, are particularly affected by wage adjustments. Research also shows that providing adequate benefits contributes to a happier and ultimately more productive workforce,” Sandberg wrote. While Sandberg declined to indicate how many workers will be affected or the costs of the initiative, the new policies apply to Facebook vendors that employ 25 or more workers at the social networking firm.
As the federal government continues to trail the rest of the industrialized world in passing a national paid family leave law, the positive publicity large companies such as Microsoft and Facebook are receiving by finding their own ways to “Lead on Leave” supports the current climate surrounding the movement toward universal paid leave. While Secretary Perez’s “Lead on Leave” tour along with countless other advocacy groups and champions have pushed for paid leave for full time wage earners, new initiatives by Microsoft and Facebook aim to support contracted workers, who are frequently unnoticed and unrecognized as company employees. Such progress is a step in the right direction towards normalizing family friendly workplace policies; however, much more needs to be done to ensure coverage for all workers needing to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one.