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US last in paid parental leave, but some Mich. companies stepping up

Tribune News Service • Jun 24, 2018 at 2:00 PM

New dad, Frank D’Angelo, 44, is getting four weeks of paid time off this year to spend with his baby girl as part of a new family leave program at DTE Energy, where he works in public affairs.

Being given four weeks of paid leave to spend time at home with the new baby in her first year was a perk the D’Angelos said made all the difference for their growing family. It’s the kind of benefit more and more companies are offering to mothers and increasingly to fathers, same-sex partners and adoptive and foster parents.

Because the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world among 42 countries analyzed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not have any federally mandated paid parental leave policy, some companies are stepping up to fill the gap.

“I think our move to provide this benefit, this child bonding leave, it was really a reflection of what our employees value,” said Diane Antishin, vice president of human resources operations and chief diversity and inclusion officer for DTE Energy. “We wanted to be one of those employers who employees view as standing by them in the most important times of their lives, and what more so than when they’re bringing a new human life into a family?”

In January, DTE began to offer four weeks of paid parental bonding time to about 5,000 of its non-union, salaried employees in the first year after the birth of a child, following an adoption or starting foster care. That’s in addition to six to eight weeks of paid short-term disability leave most birth mothers use to recover after delivery, Antishin said.

“Our belief was — and I think we were right on the money — that by providing this benefit, we would have an increase in loyalty and engagement and productivity and just all the positive elements you’d like to see in your workforce,” Antishin said. “It’s about talent attraction and retention at the end of the day and having the workplace flexibility that the generation coming into our company is looking for.”

That extra time helped Frank D’Angelo bond with his baby and adapt to the demands of parenthood.

“We had a child later in life, so I did not realize what a life change it really was. Everything changed. … Now, everything is about Briar. One of us is with her every second,” D’Angelo said. “We’re just learning how to share duties, making the most of every minute.”

From 2015-2017, more than 75 large companies announced new or expanded policies in what The Harvard Business Review called “a paid-parental-leave arms race.”

It began with Netflix, which in August 2015 announced it would offer unlimited paid parental leave up to a year for its salaried streaming employees following the birth or adoption of a child.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation quickly followed suit, also offering one full year of paid leave to new parents (for birth and adoptive parents) who work full time.

Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Cisco Systems, American Express, Whirlpool and Walmart added paid leave policies, too.

Grand Rapids-based Meijer expanded its family leave program to include 20 paid days off to full- and part-time employees who have a new baby or a child placed through adoption. It includes birth parents, adoptive parents and same-sex partners and is offered in addition to short-term disability afforded to birth mothers.

Quicken Loans, headquartered in Detroit, provides six weeks of paid parental leave for a child’s primary caregiver and two additional weeks once that primary caregiver returns to the job, said Mike Malloy, Quicken’s chief people officer. That is in addition to six to eight weeks of fully paid short-term disability leave for the birth mother. The secondary caregiver — who could be the child’s father, domestic partner or same-sex partner — gets three weeks of paid time off.

“We think about it holistically,” he said. “How can we support our team members in everything they do?” said Malloy.

“I think people are seeing that doing the right thing and having team members who are truly engaged and truly want to be there and are fired up about coming to work and serving their clients do a better job and therefore make the company successful. … It’s good for business, and I think you’ll see more companies moving that way as they realize just how valuable it is to have your team members truly engaged.”

Ford Motor Co. expanded its policy last year, and now offers 10 paid days off for new parents who are among its U.S. salaried employees, which can be taken at anytime in the year after the birth or adoption of a child. Birth mothers also get six to eight weeks of paid short-term disability leave. Either parent can take up to 12 months off unpaid at Ford, and the policy also applies to same-sex partners who are listed on a child’s birth certificate.

General Motors declined to provide details of its policy. Fiat Chrysler also declined to outline its parental leave policy, noting “FCA US offers its employees a comprehensive and competitive benefits package that is reviewed and updated regularly.”

Gannett, which is the parent company of the Detroit Free Press, added six weeks of paid parental leave to new mothers and fathers within the first year following the birth, adoption or surrogacy of a child. That time is in addition to Family Medical Leave or short-term disability benefits.

Though progressive new policies in the tech sector and among some other large companies suggest an improving picture nationally for paid family leave, the majority of companies still offer no paid leave at all or only partial pay to birth mothers via short-term disability while they are medically unable to work as they recover from delivery.

For many, particularly those who work for smaller companies with fewer employees, there’s not even a guarantee their jobs will be held if they take time off following the birth of a child. The federal Family Medical Leave Act offers job protection for up to 12 weeks a year to care for a family member if a company has at least 50 employees. But there’s no mandated pay during that 12 weeks of FMLA time.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that just 13 percent of private industry workers had access to paid parental leave as of March 2016.

A few states and municipalities — such as New Jersey, New York, California, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington, D.C. — have enacted laws to cover at least some paid parental leave time for families.

But Brynn Guster, 38, of Northville says that isn’t enough.

“On a national level, it needs to be revisited,” said Guster, who has two children, Mitchell, 3, and Amelia, 7 months, with her husband, Philip Guster.

“When you think about truly what it means to have a child and that transition, it’s a lot,” she said. “It’s a lot of change to your body, to your family dynamic, and I think that’s something that should be celebrated. You shouldn’t feel that you have to make a choice or that you have to compromise or potentially put yourself in an unsafe situation just in returning to work before you should.

“We do need change in our country. The U.S. is really behind. We can make changes maybe on a smaller scale that will add up to bigger change.”

The societal effects of more progressive paid leave policies for new parents have been well documented in other countries where several months of fully paid leave for both parents — and in some cases years of paid time off — are the norm.

“The best available evidence strongly supports making six months of paid leave available to parents of infants, with three months as a minimum bar for supporting health and women’s economic opportunities,” according to the Los Angeles-based WORLD Policy Analysis Center. “While most research focuses on paid maternity or maternal leave, there is a growing body of literature around the importance of paid leave for fathers as well.”

“It’s important for dads to feel like they’re part of the bonding and supporting their wife or significant other in their transition, too,” Brynn Guster said. “I think that the man is part of the equation, and I appreciate that that has been noted by DTE. It’s not just for the women. It’s for the men, for everybody who has this time in their life. I think that’s really, really important. It shouldn’t just be on the woman to decide, do I want to go back to work?”

Two former Kayak.com executives recently launched a campaign on Change.org that suggests mandated paid paternity leave would also help to close the gender wage gap.

They argue that by requiring fathers to take six weeks off work, it will increase the share of child care they do at home. A 2013 Pew Research Center study showed working mothers with children younger than 18 spent an average of 10.7 hours per week engaged in child care, compared with fathers’ 7.2 hours. In addition, 42 percent of mothers surveyed by Pew reduced work hours to care for children. Among fathers, 28 percent did the same. Mothers also were roughly three times more likely than men to report they quit a job to care for a family member.

Melissa Birge and Stephanie Retcho, who left Kayak.com to co-found maternity wear startup, Mia Tango, wrote an open letter to the CEOs of 50 companies, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, seeking support for the campaign.

For Philip Guster, 38, a marketing program manager at DTE, there was a stark difference between the family’s experiences following the birth of Mitchell in 2014 and the birth of Amelia in November.

When Mitchell was born, Philip Guster didn’t have an option of any paid parental leave. He had just one week of vacation time to take after his first child arrived.

“It just so happened that about a month before he was born, I accepted a new position,” he said. “Here I am in that new role, with a new baby, didn’t have time off, didn’t have the parental policy in place. So it was a little stressful.”

That was hard on him, but it was especially rough for Brynn Guster and their new baby.

“She didn’t have the extended care and support that I would have liked her to have and that she probably needed at the time,” he said.

By the time Amelia was born in November 2017, DTE was poised to change its policy. It offered both the Gusters — Brynn works in corporate communications — four weeks of paid parental leave starting Jan. 1, which could be taken anytime up until Amelia turns 1.

“DTE was very kind to us,” she said. “It was nice that they found a little bit of that gray area. … They’re understanding that this is a change. And for me, I wanted to keep working, but it’s a lot with a kid or with two. To have that flexibility, … . it just kind of gives you that time to say, ‘She’s changing quickly, can I take some extra time off?’ Or, ‘She’s sick, and I’d like to be home to take care of her.’

“It just gives you space to say this works for me and it’s going to make me a better employee because I do want to be here, and you’re giving me the space to transition right now. It’s definitely helped me transition back into work a lot easier.”

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