The right of workers to have time off to bond with a newborn or other addition to the family, or care for a family member, is well-established in state and federal law. Providing payments to cover wages lost is good policy too, widely supported and required in a growing number of states.
The difficult question is who should pay for the benefit.
Danone North America, which has a manufacturing plant in Bridgeton, has an excellent approach to that. The company announced last month that it will dramatically expand the paid parental leave it makes available to its manufacturing employees from two to 18 weeks.
New Jersey is one of several states that require paid family leave in some form for employees. Others include New York, California, Rhode Island and Washington.
The United States, however, is alone in not having a national paid leave policy (it requires unpaid leave).
In a 2018 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. was the only one of 41 nations without a paid leave mandate.
Many other nations provide months of paid leave for mothers, while fathers typically get two weeks. Many reimburse moms for all or nearly all of their lost wages, while fathers typically get less than a third.
So far, Congress has been unable to agree on how to pay for a nationwide paid family leave program.
New Jersey, which doubled the length of mandated paid leave last year to 12 weeks and increased wages covered to 85%, taxes employees to pay for it. But only a fraction of them use it, and they and society as a whole benefit from it. Given that, everyone should help pay for it, not just workers, perhaps through sales tax revenue.
The parent company of Danone North America, whose brands include Dannon, Activia and Horizon Organic, is based in France, where new mothers are not only eligible for 16 to 26 weeks of paid leave but are required to take at least eight weeks. No surprise then that Danone North America is funding the payments to its employees during their parental leaves.
That’s fair because workers considering a job with Danone can evaluate paid leave as part of the company’s overall wage and benefits package. Besides having value for many employees, it might suggest the company treats its workers well.
Presumably Danone’s greater leave benefit supplements the existing New Jersey requirement.
With varying state mandates and funding systems, as well as some companies providing their employees with the benefit, no wonder Congress struggles to develop a uniform national paid leave policy. If all other nations have done so, the U.S. could do it too.