New father Carlos Gonzales and expectant mother Melissa Knaszak say they’re thankful for the policy. “I work for an awesome company,” Knaszak says.
Published: 08 June 2013 07:06 PM
Sometimes companies let worries of legal entanglements get in the way of doing the right thing. General Datatech LP almost did a few months ago when its HR director wanted to improve its maternity leave and asked the in-house counsel about possible gender discrimination issues. But thanks to a willingness to test the legal waters, employees at GDT can now enjoy paid time off with new children. To skirt the potential bugaboo of women getting more paid time off than men, GDT has two policies: medical maternity leave and kid bonding time. New mothers get six to eight weeks of full salary to recover from giving birth, depending on whether it was a vaginal or cesarean delivery. “This isn’t discriminatory,” says Stuart Cary, GDT’s director of human resources and recruiting. “If a guy gives birth, he can have maternity leave, too.” All new parents — birth, adoptive, foster and same-sex — get two weeks to bond with their new ones.
“When we made the announcement a month ago, we said, ‘The only thing we ask in return is you send us a picture of the baby to put up on our digital media system,’” Cary says. “A guy pinged me today: ‘My wife and I are getting ready to adopt a baby. I get to take time off?’ I said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”
Earlier this year, Cary became fed up with the tech company’s parental leave policy: unpaid leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act and short-term disability, which paid new moms a reduced salary while they mended physically.
Parental leave hadn’t been a big issue when the Dallas-based telecom company was small and mostly guys. But GDT has grown from 100 employees just a few years ago to 350, nearly equally split in gender and most in the family-building stage. “I’m 48, and I’m one of the geezers,” Cary says. That means more babies.
“I wake up one day a few months ago, and we’ve got five pregnant employees. We also had three or four men working here whose wives were pregnant,” Cary says. “Here they are about to have this joyous time in their lives, and I’m having to tell them they’re going to get 60 percent of their salary for one month and after that they’re on their own.” When Cary approached John Ansbach, the company’s 41-year-old general counsel and new dad was sympathetic.
But Ansbach says he kept his lawyer hat on, telling Cary: “It sounds progressive. But it sounds problematic. You could open up the company to discrimination claims because you’re going to give women this much leave but men that much leave. Let’s keep doing what most folks are doing.” And that isn’t much.
Only 11 percent of all private industry workers in the United States have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But two weeks after telling Cary no-go, Ansbach had an in-flight epiphany while traveling to Houston to give a speech. He’d brought along Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead wanting to know why all the stir. The 43-year-old chief operating officer of Facebook has taken considerable heat for suggesting that women are largely to blame for the stalling out of female progression to the top.
But Ansbach found a different message: Men and women need to work together to create more encouraging policies that will keep women on their career paths. “God’s honest truth, by the time we land, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’ve been approaching this [parental leave] issue entirely wrong,’” recalls Ansbach. “‘My job is to wear my legal hat and manage risk. But my job is also to help our company be successful and draw great talent and, frankly, be a good corporate citizen’ — as corny as all that sounds.
“As soon as I land, I call Stuart and say, ‘We need to revisit this.’” Ansbach consulted with the company’s outside attorney about potential landmines and ran the traps online to see what progressive companies were doing. The platinum standard is being set in Silicon Valley, where Google pays birth moms for 18 to 22 weeks off and parents who did not give birth get seven weeks of paid leave. Facebook gives $4,000 in “baby cash.”
That was a bit more than the small tech company could handle. “Stuart and I sat down and said, ‘OK, what do we think is right for us?’ “We discussed cost of the policy but figured that it would be relatively small and certainly manageable,” says Ansbach, “especially when compared to good will the policy would create in treating our folks right.”
‘I’m really thankful’
Ansbach presented the draft policy to JW Roberts, GDT’s owner and CEO, with a caveat. “I told him, ‘It’s not required. It’s not the most risk-averse from a legal standpoint. But frankly, it’s the right thing to do.’” Roberts, a 48-year-old father of four young children, thought it was a no-brainer. “I’m for anything that improves our culture,” he says. “I didn’t care about the economics of it. I just said, ‘Go.’ That time is a magical time where people shouldn’t be worried about a paycheck.”
They’ve had nothing but positive feedback, Cary says. Graphics designer Melissa Knaszak, 30, is expecting a son in a month or so. She expected to drain her vacation time and was saving up to handle the pay cut when she went on short-term disability.
“Until this policy came along, we were worried about how we were going to manage our money,” Knaszak says. “I work for an awesome company.” Network engineer and new parent Carlos Gonzales agrees. He started his bonding time last Wednesday with the birth of his son. He’s relieved to be at home helping his wife following her second C-section and is taking care of their 6-year-old daughter. His previous employer had nothing like this when she was born. “I’m really thankful , not just for a healthy family but for a company that values bonding by parents, whether it be the father or the mother.”
What it is
New mothers get six weeks paid leave for vaginal delivery or eight weeks paid leave for Cesarean-section delivery, plus two weeks for bonding with their newborns.
New fathers get two weeks of paid bonding leave, as do all parents who adopt or take in foster children.
Who is eligible
All employees working 30 hours a week or more, including same-sex couples, are eligible. Employees working 20 to 29 hours a week are eligible for half of the paid time off.