Amazon Vastly Improves Parental Leave Benefits

The online retail giant offers paternity leave for the first time.

After a devastating New York Times article blasted its culture as insensitive -- particularly toward working parents -- Amazon is significantly improving its parental leave benefits, the company announced in a memo to employees on Monday.

For the first time, men at the company will get paid paternity leave. And Amazon is offering an innovative new policy that gives employees money so their partners can stay home with the new child.

Birth mothers are now eligible for a total of 20 weeks leave, up from a paltry eight weeks -- pretty subpar in the tech world, which is falling over itself these days to offer Cadillac-level benefits amid competition to hire talent. Google also offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Amazon joins a growing group of tech companies expanding paid parental leave. Netflix, IBM, Microsoft, Accenture, Adobe all improved their leave offerings this year.

Of course, Amazon's move is all the more notable, considering The New York Times report this year, which detailed how motherhood could be a liability at the company for some workers -- because of the long, grueling hours required to get ahead.

A human resources executive told the Times that a woman who had just had a stillborn baby was put on a performance improvement plan right after returning to work. Other stories of mothers having difficulty at the company surfaced, as well.

The new policy goes into effect on Jan. 1, but applies to babies born after Oct. 1, 2015. All full-time workers are eligible, including those in the company's warehouses, according to the memo that Amazon shared with The Huffington Post. That distinguishes Amazon from rival employer Netflix, which didn't include workers in its fulfillment centers when it expanded leave this summer.

Amazon's new Leave Share Program is particularly novel: It allows full-time workers to share their six-week paid leave with their spouse, provided he or she doesn't get any paid time off through their job. How it works, according to the memo: You come back early from your six-week leave and the company pays you for the remaining time. You use that money so your partner can take time off with the baby.

"One thing we hear from new mothers at Amazon is that they wish their spouse or partner could also take paid time off from work," the memo says. "That can be difficult because more than 80% of American companies don’t provide any paid parental leave."

The company also is adding a flex program that allows new parents to gradually return to full-time hours.

It remains to be seen how the new policies will affect Amazon's intensely competitive culture.

Many companies that offer paternity leave find that it's hard to get men to actually take it. And women still might wind up mommy-tracked by managers unaccustomed to longer leaves.

Still, the policy may help Amazon get workers to stick with the company -- high attrition rates was another problem highlighted by the Times. Extending maternity leave has helped other tech companies, including Google and Adobe, hold onto female employees.

Amazon says in the memo to employees that the company began considering changes to the leave policy in "early 2015." It conducted internal focus groups and studied the policies of other companies, the memo says. Amazon also emphasized that the improvements weren't just for well-paid Amazonians in the home office.

"We also wanted to ensure that all our full‐time employees, including our Fulfillment Center and Customer Service Associates, enjoy the same benefits," the memo says.

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