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Parental leave policies in the United States lag behind many other countries. In fact, the United States is one of just three industrialized nations in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave as a mandatory, national benefit. Despite these shortcomings in parental leave policies nationwide, Netflix, the California-based television and movie subscription service, recently announced a bold policy for its employees: unlimited maternity and paternity leave for the baby’s first year.

Policy Basics

In August 2015, Netflix’s chief talent officer Tawni Cruz announced that the company will extend its “freedom and responsibility” culture to parental leave policies, giving new mothers and fathers complete control over how often, or if, they work for up to a year after the baby is born. Whether new parents return to work part-time, full-time or sporadically during that first year, these Netflix employees will continue to collect a regular paycheck, regardless of their hours worked.
At face value, this generous parental leave policy seems like a step in the right direction. Giving new parents time to bond with a baby and adjust to changing roles and lifestyles can certainly help them create balance and harmony in their new lives. In theory, a well-adjusted new parent can come into work with focus and energy. However, this unlimited maternity and paternity leave policy presents a few questions and concerns as well.

Concern #1: Company Harmony

When new parents at Netflix are using up to 12 months of paid leave, other employees will have to pick up the slack. These employees may have to tackle some of the new parent’s responsibilities on top of their own—with no added financial benefit. As a result, months of pitching-in on another employee’s job has the potential to lead to resentment among co-workers. Tension could exist between the employees on leave and other employees, potentially leading to disharmony in the company.
On the flip-side, parents who leave their responsibilities, tasks, and projects to others to fill-in on might be putting themselves at-risk of being “Wally Pipp-ed.” (Wally Pipp was the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees. He was replaced by Lou Gehrig due to a headache, and Gehrig remained the starter for 2,130 consecutive games!)

Concern #2: Company Efficiency and Logistics

By making the employee the sole decision maker regarding his or her leave, Netflix may unintentionally create challenges when planning projects, workflow, and responsibilities. Company efficiency depends on employees collaborating, tackling tasks, and completing projects. Doling out tasks and managing projects can be challenging when the availability of the employee on paid leave is unknown. Moreover, if multiple employees have babies during the same year, the company might suffer serious setbacks and slowdowns if they all take the full year off, as permitted.

Concern #3: Pressure to Work

Despite receiving up to a year of paid leave, Netflix employees might feel obligated to return to work long before that first year is up. Whether they are concerned about maintaining their jobs, securing a promotion, or simply looking good for the boss, these employees might opt out of the parental leave opportunities for fear of its impact on their careers. Moreover, employees might feel pressure from their superiors or co-workers to return to work, especially if other new parents didn’t take the full 12 months of leave.

Concern #4: Class Issues

Netflix’s new policy applies only to salaried employees, not those hourly employees working in its distribution centers. As NPR notes, this distinction has created a “class” issue within the Netflix family. By excluding up to 500 employees in distribution centers from this generous parental leave policy, Netflix risks valuing one group of employees over another, again creating potential discord within the organization.

California Maternity and Paternity Policies

Netflix’s cutting-edge parental leave policies certainly aren’t the norm in California. Nonetheless, California remains at the forefront of improved parental leave policies. Understanding new parents’ rights when it comes to maternity and paternity leave is essential.

Paid Family Leave Act

According to the California Work and Family Coalition, California is the first U.S. state to provide income replacement through the Paid Family Leave Act. This act is reserved for employees who pay into the State Disability Insurance program. After a baby is born, these individuals can receive up to six weeks of partial pay, totaling no more than 55 percent of their weekly wages. This six weeks of partially paid leave can be used in conjunction with other types of parental leave.

Family and Medical Leave Act

FMLA is a federally mandated program that allows employees to take 12 weeks of leave after the birth of a child. This leave is unpaid, but the employee’s job security and insurance benefits remain intact. This protection extends beyond the birth and adoption of a child: Individuals facing serious health conditions or caring for family members with health problems are also afforded this leave.

California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act is an extension of the federal FMLA. This act also provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a new baby. Employers that must abide by the CFRA are any California employment organizations that do business in the state and employ more than 50 part-time or full-time employees.

California Employer Responsibilities

California employees can take advantage of these three acts during their maternity or paternity leave, giving them the opportunity to bond with their new babies. Employers cannot deny their leave request, interfere with their leave, or retaliate against them for taking this parental leave.