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In the U.S., the only federal law


concerning parental leave is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. It requires that companies with more than 50 employees give new parents — including same-sex couples — and workers with personal or family medi- cal issues, up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This act allows for so many exemptions, however, that it covers just 59 percent of U.S. workers. What’s more, the Department of


Labor says 64 percent of the people who are eligible for the unpaid leave but don’t take it are women, likely because they can’t afford to. This situation is unlikely to be changed by law anytime soon, either. A proposal introduced in Congress last year to give federal employees six weeks of paid parental leave went nowhere. States are free to enact their own


laws regarding paid parental leave, of course, but few have done so. In Virginia, no such law exists, and the Washington, D.C.-based National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) could find no bill concern- ing this subject currently under consideration in Richmond. The upshot of this lack of inter-


est on the part of state and federal government is that that just 12 percent of working Americans have access to paid parental or family leave, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. Nevertheless, the movement toward making paid leave an employee benefit is picking up in Virginia and elsewhere, with the impetus for change coming from the marketplace. “Paid leave has moved from being a


social issue to being a business impera- tive,” says Pam Jeffords, a partner based in Denver at Mercer, a global consult- ing firm with a specialty in employee benefits. In particular, Jeffords says, she is witnessing “a new emphasis on mater- nity’s role in female success.”


Hurting the workforce? According to the NPWF, the


more than 2 million working women in Virginia represent 47 percent of the state’s overall workforce. Yet a 2014 New York Times/CBS News/ Kaiser Foundation poll showed that,


Photos by Mark Rhodes


Christine Noonan is the head of human resources at The Motley Fool in Alexandria, which allows its 330 employees to take 16 weeks of paid parental leave.


on average, more than 40 percent of working women nationally will quit their jobs at some point, mostly because of family obligations, such as caring for a newborn or an ailing par- ent. That hurts not just their careers, but their employers’ businesses. In a written statement to a Senate subcommittee hearing on children and families, Vicki Shabo, NPWF’s vice president, cited a survey of 31 com- panies, along with academic case studies, which found that the


Shabo


median cost for employee turnover equaled, on average, 21 percent of a worker’s annual wages because of issues including separation expenses, higher unemployment insurance,


www.VirginiaBusiness.com


temporary staffing and training. On the other hand, a 2011 study by California’s Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 91 percent of businesses it surveyed reported that paid parental leave either boosted profits or had no effect on the bottom line. “Parental leave is


Howard


getting studied a lot,” says Bill Howard, a principal in health and benefits at Mercer’s Richmond office. “Employers want to understand the cost, and everyone wants a


benchmark.” That benchmark now is being


set by two sectors of the economy in particular — technology and finan- cial services.


VIRGINIA BUSINESS 57


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