The 20 largest employers in the United States now offer paid parental leave to at least some of their workers. Lowe’s, which had been the only one that gave no employees paid time off after they had a baby, announced a new leave policy for all new parents on Thursday.
Under the policy, which goes into effect May 1, birth mothers will have 10 weeks of paid leave, and all other parents — including fathers and adoptive, foster and same-sex parents — will have two weeks of paid leave. All salaried and full-time hourly employees, like those who work in Lowe’s stores and distribution centers, will receive the benefit.
In most American families, both parents work, and many are struggling to combine work and parenthood. Companies have been trying to adjust to that fact. In the absence of a federal paid leave policy — the United States is the only industrialized country not to have one — companies and some states and cities have been starting their own.
President Trump called for paid leave in his State of the Union address Tuesday, but did not say whether he supported a government policy or, as some Republicans have suggested, tax incentives or other encouragement for more private companies to offer it.
“Let us support working families by supporting paid family leave,” he said.
Large majorities of Americans favor paid parental leave, but only about one-fifth think state or federal government should pay for it, according to two recent Pew Research Center surveys. More than half said employers should provide it. Respondents were split on whether the government should require it.
The biggest employers have an easier time paying for leave and replacing employees when they are out. Small business owners say it’s much more challenging for them. Although 94 percent of respondents in the Pew survey said paid leave would be good for families, 57 percent said it would be bad for small businesses.
Despite the policies at the biggest employers, only 13 percent of private industry workers have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Paid leave increases the chances that women keep working after having children, research has shown. It also has benefits for babies’ health, mothers’ physical and mental health, and gender equity.
It’s a sign of employee demand and a competitive job market that Lowe’s and other companies are offering paid leave to hourly employees, not just salaried ones. Starbucks and AT&T also recently expanded their policies for some hourly workers.
The Lowe’s policy is among the most generous for hourly employees, who are 59 percent of the American work force. Hourly employees are generally much less likely than salaried employees to receive paid leave, but they are also less likely to be able to afford unpaid leave or newborn child care.
At the 20 largest employers, six others give birth mothers or primary caregivers 10 weeks or more among hourly employees. Just eight others guarantee other parents any time at all.
More complete details on company policies are available here.