Dow Chemical adds paid weeks to parental leave benefit

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 3:14 PM

Dow Chemical is fattening the paid leave it gives employees after the birth of a child as it becomes the latest major U.S. employer to rethink how it treats parents.

The creator of Ziploc bags and Saran Wrap said Wednesday that mothers will receive a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave, while non-birthing parents can get two weeks. That's up from six to eight weeks and one week, respectively.

This leave can be taken in the 12 months after a child's birth, and the change applies to all of the company's 53,000 employees worldwide.

The chemical maker left its policy for adoptive parents unchanged. They get four weeks of paid time off and reimbursement for some expenses.

More U.S. companies have started expanding the leave they give to new parents, especially in Silicon Valley, where competition for workers can be intense. Netflix Inc., for instance, said last year that some of its employees will be able to take up to a year of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

But overall, paid maternity and paternity leave in the United States lags behind standards established elsewhere.

Many European countries mandate several months of paid leave after a birth or adoption. In the U.S., most employers offer some sort of paid, short-term disability leave — usually six or eight weeks — for women who give birth. But paid leave after that, outside of sick time or vacation days, can be sparse. Federal law requires only unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

A survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 21 percent of employers offer a paid maternity benefit beyond disability leave. Only 17 percent provide paid paternity leave for fathers.

Paid maternity leave can vary by company. It usually amounts to around 12 weeks, some of which may be at partial salary, said Lisa Horn, the society's director of congressional affairs.

Dow's new policy started this month in the U.S. and will be phased in throughout the year internationally.

Late last year, Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. and competitor DuPont announced a plan to merge and temporarily create the world's second-largest chemical company before separating into three independent, publicly traded companies.

A Dow spokeswoman said Wednesday that it was too early to say how the leave policy will be managed after the merger is completed.