Richard Branson, champion of space tourism and naked kitesurfing, just unveiled his latest eccentric plan: a year’s paternity leave on full salary for some new fathers at his company, Virgin.
The British billionaire is on a campaign to "revolutionize the workplace," according to a company statement, partly in response to his country’s new shared parental leave policy, which allows moms and dads to split between them 50 weeks of leave, 37 of them paid.
“If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business,” Branson declared in the statement. “As a father and now a granddad to three wonderful grandchildren, I know how magical the first year of a child’s life is but also how much hard work it takes.”
The catch, of course, is only a few lucky Virgin employees can claim all of Branson’s generous perk. About 0.2 percent, to be precise:
Virgin has a huge business, encompassing everything from airline Virgin Galactic to music label Virgin Records, employing about 50,000 workers. But the company said only about 140 will be able to take the full amount of paid leave.
That's because to qualify, male and female employees must live in London or Geneva and have worked at least four years for Virgin Management, the company’s investment arm. Workers with less than two years of experience will receive 25 percent.
Now, before anyone chides Branson for excluding the vast majority of his workforce while attempting to lead a workforce revolution, remember: Virtually no one offers this much paid paternity leave — and especially in the United States, where about 14 percent of employers report providing some amount of the benefit at all.
But Virgin's move could serve as a metaphor for America’s baby benefit gap: The majority of workers here have no access to paid family leave, and those who do often already enjoy financial stability.
Paid paternity leave, like naked kite-surfing, just doesn't happen for most people.
About 39 percent of Americans report being able to take some type of paid family leave following the birth of a child, according to a White House report. Many save up vacation days for the occasion.
And just like at Virgin, access to paid days off generally depends on your occupation: 88 percent of private sector managers and financial workers enjoy some version of benefit, more than double the rate among service workers (40 percent) and construction workers (38 percent).
Companies that offer paid paternity leave also tend to also offer high salaries. Google, Facebook and Bank of America, for example, are leading the pack. The benefit comes with ample vacation days and other above-and-beyond perks. One example from Facebook: complimentary egg freezing packages, valued up to $30,000.
Low-wage workers with the least financial resources to support a new baby, however, are the least likely to have access to paid family leave. Days off, for millions, equates to diminished paychecks.