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Here’s Why Amazon’s New Parental Leave Policy Matters

If you've missed out on the back and forth between Amazon and The New York Times, the short version is that it has hardly been a mutual admiration society. At the end of the summer, the newspaper published a scathing report detailing how the company is "redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable" in how far it can push its employees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was quick to respond with an internal memo, saying that he did not believe the company in the article was the Amazon he knows, encouraging employees to report any instances of the behavior it described. Now it seems Amazon is taking concrete steps to correct that perception more broadly.

If you’ve missed out on the back and forth between Amazon and The New York Times, the short version is that it has hardly been a mutual admiration society. At the end of the summer, the newspaper published a scathing report detailing how the company is “redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable” in how far it can push its employees. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was quick to respond with an internal memo, saying that he did not believe the company in the article was the Amazon he knows, encouraging employees to report any instances of the behavior it described. Now it seems Amazon is taking concrete steps to correct that perception more broadly.

amazon offices

(Photo Credit: Robert Scoble/Flickr)

On Monday, the tech giant rolled out a new parental leave policy, which offers 20 weeks of paid leave, including 6 weeks that can be shared with a partner or spouse. This seems to come as a response to the criticism that Amazon pushes its employees too far.

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Staying Competitive Means Offering Incentives

According to the Times’ report, Amazon is at the top of its game. Not only have they surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the country, they also produce the award-winning TV show Transparent, and their CEO is No. 4 on the Forbes 400. A strong showing, indeed, and things that might attract potential new recruits all on their own.

But in his internal memo, Mr. Bezos made an important point that may signal there’s more to a company’s clout than what they can get out of their workers: “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market.”

Parental Leave Is Becoming a Significant Issue

The memo outlining Amazon’s new policy cited the fact that 80 percent of American companies don’t provide paternal leave as a part of the reason they are including the option to share 6 weeks of leave with a partner. And as Jezebel notes, the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world not to mandate paid parental leave — the federal requirement currently dictates 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA, but only for those who qualify.

The problem isn’t simply a lack of time off: it’s a lack of job security. Based on the findings of a survey reported by The Guardian earlier this year, some 40 percent of women return from maternity leave to find that their role has been changed — and one in seven women discover their role has been made redundant. As a result, many women (about one in four) only take about two weeks of maternity leave here in the states.

It’s easy to conclude that employers are not protecting their employees who want to start a family and continue to work. Parental leave policies like Amazon’s, or the even more impressive year-long leave offered by Netflix, are an important step in communicating that employers are being proactive about protecting new mothers’ and parents’ jobs.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think of America not requiring paid parental leave? Have you benefited from having extended paid leave? We want to hear from you! Tell us your story in the comments below or by joining the conversation on Twitter.  

Peter Swanson
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