The online streaming company Netflix was the talk of the 24-hour news cycle a few months ago when it announced that new parents — moms or dads — could take up to one year of paid time off. And now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he’ll take off two months when his daughter is born, although company policy is double that.
“Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families,” he posted on his profile page earlier this month. “At Facebook, we offer our U.S. employees up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave which they can take throughout the year.”
But not all of us earn our paychecks from Netflix or Facebook, and the companies that offer equal paid time off to both mothers and fathers are in the minority. According to the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, 58 percent of U.S. companies offer paid time off for new moms, while only 14 percent offer the same to new dads.
Former CNN journalist and father of three Josh Levs says this isn’t right.
“There’s federal guidance now that says yes, women should get leave for physical recovery (from child birth). However, any leave that is actually given to take care of the child has to be gender-neutral,” Levs told MetroFocus Host Rafael Pi Roman.
But Levs says this doesn’t go far enough. When his third child, a daughter, was born prematurely in 2013, he requested an extension of his company’s two-week paternity leave so he could care for his wife and daughter. This was denied, so he pushed back: Levs took his employer to court.
“People say it must’ve been hard, but for me it was so obvious that it was wrong, and the legal action was for other families as well. I didn’t want other families to suffer this way. And also because I have covered so much of this as a journalist, I knew that it was bad business, and I knew that it was bad for families,” he said.
Levs chronicles the experience and explores the debate about paternity leave in his new book, “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together.”
Levs says national changes are needed to address the issue.
“The best system that we can have to take care of this is a paid family leave system which is public,” he said.
He pointed to California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where employees pay into a fund through a payroll deduction that can be used to cover paid time off for family needs. This includes caring for a child but also an ailing parent or spouse.
“You get paid leave up to six weeks in these states, and the great news is that businesses are loving it,” Levs said. “There were all these naysayers in advance saying, ‘it’ll kill jobs’, ‘it’ll hurt the economy’; The hard facts are in, the results are in — they’re all in my book ‘All In’ — and the fact is it’s working out so well that the groups that were opposing it beforehand have gone totally silent.”
Ultimately, Levs’s suit against CNN prompted the company to change its policies.
“Before a dad like me could only get two weeks, now we can get six weeks,” said Levs, who continued to work at CNN during the legal battle and only left the company recently due to his new book. “And as a result of this change, moms who give birth, now get more time than they used to as well, and they will tell you the same thing I’ll tell you: it is better business.”
Levs will discuss his new book and findings in Stamford, Conn. on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.