Companies have been rolling out ever-longer paid parental leaves to lure or retain younger workers: Six paid weeks off for new barista moms at Starbucks. Six months for both new moms and dads at Etsy. Up to a year at Netflix.
But expansive benefits for new parents have overshadowed the many caregiving responsibilities of other workers: Parents with sick grade-school children. Single employees who need to help with a parent's critical illness. Anyone — male or female, young or old — grieving after the death of a close family member.
A new policy at Facebook aims to change that. On Tuesday, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced that employees at the social media giant will now receive up to 20 days of bereavement leave in the event of a family member's death, six weeks of paid leave to care for an ill relative and three days of paid family sick time to help out with a short-term illness.
“This is personal for me,” said Sandberg, whose husband died suddenly two years ago, at a women's leadership conference where she and Facebook human resources executive Lori Goler announced the news.
It's also practical for achieving the kind of goals that Sandberg's “Lean In” book and initiative aim to advance around women's empowerment. For one, women continue to disproportionately bear the responsibilities of caring for sick children or parents, even when they work full time. A paid leave policy that gives employees paid time off for those needs helps women remain in the workforce and continue to advance in their jobs.
Perhaps more important, a policy like Facebook's helps make the concept of caregiving leave more normal — something more than just younger female employees take time off to do.
The expansion of paternity leave and gender-neutral “parental” leave policies that are underway at many companies are a step in this direction. But making paid caregiving leave something that a 55-year-old male executive with a sick mother can also take helps to normalize the idea in work cultures that still associate the idea with 30-something women.
If workers who aren't parents of young children have more permission to step out of work for a few weeks, it could help change the calculus managers do when they're thinking about whom to hire or advance. Meanwhile, the policy could help avoid resentment between generations at work and aid managers in understanding the challenges new parents face when they leave for a few weeks of work.
Benefits like the one from Facebook, which also offers four months of paid parental leave to its employees, are unusual, but not unique. Last fall, Deloitte said it would offer 16 weeks of paid “family leave,” allowing any Deloitte employee with family caregiving responsibilities to use the perk. In Sandberg's Facebook post about the new benefit, she cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data saying only about 60 percent of private sector workers in the United States get paid time off for bereavement; when they do receive it, just four days is typical for the death of a spouse or a child, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
A 2015 Department of Labor document, meanwhile, said that 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave. The Family Medical Leave Act provides unpaid leave and protects employees' jobs for 12 weeks under certain conditions, but doesn't cover bereavement.