Family Forward Policies

Parental Leave

Parental leave is paid leave for the birth, adoption, or acceptance of foster placement of a child that is separate from vacation or sick leave.

Benefits to Employers1

  • Increases or does not decrease productivity
  • Improves recruitment
  • Increases likelihood that new mothers will come back to work (and to same employer) and stay employed
  • Increases likelihood that new fathers will stay employed
  • Reduces turnover costs through increased retention
  • Improves morale and job satisfaction

Benefits to Children2

  • Increases birthweight
  • Reduces infant mortality
  • Improves health care
  • Increases well-baby care
  • Increases immunization rates
  • Supports child development
  • Increases educational attainment
  • Increases IQ
  • Increases test scores
  • Reduces behavioral/mental health problems
  • Improves regular school attendance
  • Reduces teen pregnancy rates
  • Increases wages as adults

Benefits to Parents/Families3,4

  • Improves family incomes
  • Increases initiation and length of breastfeeding
  • Decreases maternal depression and stress
  • Increases paternal engagement in caregiving
  • Increases job satisfaction
  • Builds healthier parent-child relationships
  • Reduces wage gap between women and men
  • Reduces wage gap between mothers and childless women
  • Reduces stigma of taking leave
  • Increases gender equality
  • Workers are more likely to remain in the workforce, increasing family economic security

Research or Recommendations from National Organizations

The American Public Health Association, the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Policy Council recommend a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave.

The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends a minimum of six weeks of paid leave.

The Better Life Lab, a program of the nonpartisan think tank New America, recommends a minimum of six months of paid maternity leave for maternal health and well-being and one year of paid leave, evenly split between parents, for infant health and well-being.5

Range of Practices in the United States

Though the number of employers offering paid parental leave has steadily increased over the last five years6, only 14 percent of private sector workers and 17 percent of public sector workers have access to any paid leave following a birth, adoption, or foster placement.7

For low-wage workers, the percentage is much lower — just four percent for workers in the lowest 10 percent income bracket.8 Access to leave also varies widely by industry. Thirty-seven percent of workers in the finance and insurance sectors have access to paid leave, but paid leave is available for only 19 percent of education and health care workers and six percent of restaurant and hospitality workers.9

The United States is the only developed nation in the world and one of only a small handful of countries with no national paid leave policy. The other countries are Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and a few small South Pacific island countries.

Parents Say They Want More Paid Leave,
Feel Pressured to Return to Work Too Soon

Offering family-friendly policies is a great first step toward becoming a Family Forward workplace. But ensuring your workplace culture allows parents to take advantage of the policies you offer is equally important. In a 2018 survey of more than 1,100 current and prospective parents, the majority of working parents say they contend with a lack of paid leave, pressure to return to work soon after a baby is born and stress over career consequences for taking time off.10

Even with paid leave policies in place, parents say they feel pressure to return to work and suffer career consequences from taking leave.

Both mothers and fathers who have access to paid parental leave take an average of four weeks off. Major medical associations in the US recommend a minimum of six to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Parents who make $100,000 or more are able to take nearly double the leave of parents who make less than $100,000. On average, women making less than $100,000 per year took an average of 17 days following a birth or adoption, and women making more than $100,000 took an average of 30 days. On average, men making less than $100,000 per year took an average of 15 days following a birth or adoption, and men making more than $100,000 took an average of 25 days.

More than half of mothers (53 percent) and 36 percent of fathers surveyed say the leave offered by their employer is insufficient.

One in three parents feel they’ve been overlooked for a promotion as a result of taking parental leave.

One in five parents feel pressured to return to work early or not to take all the leave their employer offers.

For parents without paid leave, quitting their current job or leaving the workforce altogether is a real consideration.

Nearly one in three mothers (27 percent) and 10 percent of fathers who do not have access to paid parental leave plan to quit their job as soon as their child is born.

Fourteen percent of soon-to-be parents plan to quit their job for a new one with leave benefits.

Case Study

North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation

Location: Raleigh • Year Founded: 2013 • Number of Employees: 4

Every day, the staff of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) works to fulfill the Raleigh-based nonprofit’s mission to build a foundation of opportunity and success for every child by the end of third grade.

But despite NCECF’s focus on early childhood initiatives, the organization did not have a policy for paid parental leave until spring of this year. As a small nonprofit with a staff of four employees—all of whom have older children—NCECF had not had a pregnant employee on the team since the organization was founded in 2013.

Sumera Syed and her son

Then Sumera Syed, who joined the staff part time in 2016 as NCECF’s organizational manager, announced her first pregnancy, and Executive Director Tracy Zimmerman realized it was time to create a parental leave policy.

“Like many small businesses, we hadn’t addressed the policy because we hadn’t needed to,” Zimmerman says. “However, once we had an immediate need, we wanted to create a policy that would not only help us keep Sumera, but would reflect research about policies that make a positive impact on child and family health and would help us attract and retain talent in the future as we grow.”

“We wanted to create a policy that would reflect research about policies that make a positive impact on child and family health.”

Now, NCECF offers 12 weeks of fully paid leave to mothers and fathers following the birth or adoption of a child. What’s more, leave is available to full- and part-time employees who work at least 20 hours a week.

Because NCECF did not have a policy in place when Syed was first pregnant, she was nervous about whether she’d be able to continue to work for the organization after her baby was born.

“At the time, I was scared about the decision I would have to make between my career and my child,” Syed says.

But Syed, who returned from her leave in June, says she is proud of NCECF for creating a policy that is comprehensive and inclusive of full-time and part-time employees.

“As a part-time employee, I am still 100 percent committed to the organization and want to grow and have lasting career plans,” she says.


Sample benefits at North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation

  • Employer paid medical insurance
  • Paid time off and paid holidays
  • 12 weeks of paid parental leave
  • 401K retirement plan
  • Life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance
Show 10 footnotes
  1. North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. “The Research Basis for Family-Friendly Workplaces.” June 14, 2018. https://files.familyforwardnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/NCECF_FFNC-policyfactsheet-061418.pdf.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. Durana, Alieza, Jonathan Moyer, Brigid Schulte, and Brian Stout. “Family Paid Leave: How Much Time is Enough?” New America. June 16, 2017. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/paid-family-leave-how-much-time-enough/introduction
  5. Durana, Alieza, Jonathan Moyer, Brigid Schulte, and Brian Stout. “Family Paid Leave: How Much Time is Enough?” New America. June 16, 2017. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/paid-family-leave-how-much-time-enough/introduction
  6. Society for Human Resource Management. “2018 Employee Benefits: The Evolution of Benefits.” April 2018. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2018%20Employee%20Benefits%20Report.pdf.
  7. Desilver, Drew. “Access to paid family leave varies widely across employers, industries.” Pew Research Center. March 23, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/23/access-to-paid-family-leave-varies-widely-across-employers-industries/.
  8. Buffie, Nick. “Inequality in Benefits: Low-Wage Workers Have Little Access to Paid Leave.” Center for Economic and Policy Research. December 16, 2015. http://cepr.net/blogs/cepr-blog/inequality-in-benefits-low-wage-workers-have-little-access-to-paid-leave.
  9. Desilver, Drew. “Access to paid family leave varies widely across employers, industries.” Pew Research Center. March 23, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/23/access-to-paid-family-leave-varies-widely-across-employers-industries/.
  10. SimplyHired. “Planning for Paid Parental Leave.” 2018. https://blog.simplyhired.com/planning-for-parental-leave/