Let’s say you’re a 30-year-old woman and you’re 22 weeks pregnant with your first child. Now let’s say you work for Netflix, which just announced a new maternity and paternity leave policy that allows new mothers and fathers alike the ability to take as much paid parental leave as they want during their child’s first year of his or her life. And so, as that young woman, when push comes to push push push, and you’re in the midst of deciding how much paid maternity leave to take, do you: a) take the entire year of paid leave since that’s the most your employer is offering, b) wait and see how it goes—maybe take two or three months, maybe take five, maybe even six depending on how you’re dealing with motherhood and how much you miss or don’t miss working, c) take as little time off as possible because you fear your manager will look down upon you for taking too much time off and/or your colleagues will be getting a leg up on you in your absence, no matter what assurances your manager has given you, or d) get so frozen with choices since there’s no set time for paid leave that you stress yourself out, and stressing yourself out, of course, is the last thing you need during your pregnancy and initial weeks of motherhood?
I present the above to point out that, although Netflix’s new leave policy might sound generous on the surface, I believe that it’s likely to be anything but. And what would’ve been a lot more generous is this: for Netflix to have given employees a full year of paid leave, if that’s indeed what the firm intended to offer, or at the very least a very generous amount of leave such as five months or six months, which is what some of the more perk-progressive companies, largely in the tech industry, do. This would have mitigated any desire for Netflix employees to undercut their colleagues’ leaves in attempts to look like better employees, and mitigated any stress about how much leave one should take.
I should also point out I’m hardly alone in critiquing Netflix. Already, others have posed similar reservations about the firm’s new policy.
Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, pointed out that there could be a big difference between what the company is signaling to the public and what it actually wants its employees to do. “Did they write the policy with the expectation that every parent will take a full year, or did they say we know it’s unlimited for a year but we know people will only take two months?” she said.
Worse, there’s no legal barrier preventing people who take an extended leave from risking their jobs. The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees someone’s job for up to 12 weeks of time away, but beyond that there are no protections. “One would hope [Netflix] wouldn’t fire you if you took a full year of leave, but they would be in their full rights to do so after you returned,” Glynn pointed out.
Glynn argued for a more defined policy. “If Netflix thinks you should take a year, they should say you have one year of leave,” she said. “I understand there are some reasons why you could argue it’s a good policy, that people can tailor it to their own needs. But I think it’s way too open to interpretation and has the potential to backfire.”
Wired magazine also pointed out the potential shortcomings of the Netflix policy.
Unlimited leave, however, can come with its own complications. Without a clear policy, employees may feel they need to take less time off in order to work the same hours as their colleagues or to appeal to their managers. Others might opt not to take any at all.
It’s also possible that an unlimited (that is, unlimited under a year) maternity and paternity leave policy could work about as well as unlimited vacation time. Which also appears to be extremely generous at a glance but sometimes results in employees taking a lot less time off than they would’ve had there been a limited amount of PTO offered.
All of which isn’t to say that Netflix shouldn’t be applauded for making an effort to further improve its already very generous workplace benefits. But perhaps the company deserves more of a golf clap than a standing ovation.
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