The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will offer a new plan to offer paid maternity and parental leave to its full-time, benefited employees in the U.S. The shift in policy is significant for an institution known for its traditional views on family and gender, especially when religious groups’ policies on maternity leave are all over the map.
The new plan, released to employees Wednesday, says that women who give birth will be eligible for six weeks of paid leave. Mothers and fathers will also be eligible for one week of paid leave to bond with new children from birth or adoption.
The LDS Church also announced in a benefits handout that it will change its dress code: Women, who were required to wear dresses or skirts, may now wear pantsuits or dress slacks. Mormon men, who are known for their crisp white shirt and tie look, are now able to wear light-colored dress shirts and may “remove suit jackets or sport coats for hot weather and movement throughout the building.”
Also, starting at the end of this year, employees who have been ill, injured or disabled for seven days can receive two-thirds of their salary from day 8 to day 45. The new benefits will apply to LDS Church’s employees, including those in its Salt Lake City headquarters and church-owned colleges, including Brigham Young University.
The debate over paid family leave has been bubbling during the past few years and shows the wide range of policies at religious nonprofits around the country. At organizations like Focus on the Family and Catholic Charities, nonprofit employees who take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act rely on leftover or accrued vacation time, sick days or a paid time off for income.
Like many religious nonprofits, the LDS Church, which has thousands of employees, did not offer parents paid leave before its recent policy change. The benefits, which do not affect its missionaries, retroactively apply to employees starting April 18 when they were approved by church leadership. Mormons have traditionally been the most Republican religious group in the United States
“I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both men and women,” Elder Quentin L. Cook, one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the church’s senior governing council, said in a statement.
Many Mormon women stay at home with their children, but attitudes about women and work have shifted in recent years, said Jana Riess, who blogs about Mormonism for Religion News Service. “The very clear division of labor according to traditional gender roles is softening somewhat,” she said.
The family unit is very important in Mormonism, since it is considered to be eternal and grouped together in the after life. Also, the hierarchy of the church is set up to promote elders who have been in service the longest, Riess noted, so the leadership of the church tends to be older and reflects different generational attitudes about gender norms.
“The church is very slow to change, particularly on issues where it feels like the family might be threatened in any way,” Riess said. “For this kind of holdout of not offering maternity leave for some time, probably that reflects the church’s ideal that women should be at home if they have children.”
The LDS Church relies heavily on volunteers, said Kathleen Flake, professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia, so it probably hasn’t needed to offer the same kinds of incentives as larger businesses. The church’s shift in clothing simply reflects a larger cultural shift away from the business dress code.
“Clothing talks,” Flake said. “As society has adopted a wider range of what is respectable dress in a professional setting, the church would naturally move in that direction too. They want to look respectable, not strange.”
Last year, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced a generous paid family leave policy, providing as many as three months of fully paid parental leave to about 7,000 employees. But as a whole, Catholic archdioceses and dioceses provide a range of policies on family leave. In a 2015 survey from the National Catholic Reporter (before the Archdiocese of Chicago changed it policy), it found at that time that just one archdiocese offered a one-week parental-leave policy at full pay for all diocesan parents.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, each church or agency offers a range of family leave policies. The Southern Baptist’s publishing arm, LifeWay Christian Resources, provides up to four months leave for mothers, 6-8 weeks of paid maternity leave and up to 4 weeks of paid maternity leave for adoption. Last year, it also began offering five days of paid paternity leave.
The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee new mothers and fathers paid time off. President Trump’s budget request released in May seeks funds to grant mothers and fathers six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, an issue that has been championed by Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Mormons, who make about 1.6 percent of the country, have been one of the most Republican religious group in the United States.
This piece has been updated.