Virgin's Parental Leave Could Come To U.S. Workers

What do Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea have in common with the United States? None of them require companies to offer paid maternity leave. The U.K.'s Shared Parental Leave law, which guarantees parents up to 50 weeks of leave (37 week of which is paid), went into effect April 5, and Virgin Group on Wednesday is already going above and beyond on the call. The British company announced it would expand its policy so employees can receive their full salary for 52 weeks of shared parental leave, and according to ABC News, Virgin's parental leave policy could come to U.S. employees sometime soon.

So far, Virgin's new policy only applies to about 140 employees in management offices in London and Geneva, Switzerland, but a spokeswoman told ABC News the company was working to extend the offering to its U.S. workers. Virgin has about 50,000 employees in total, which include those working at its San Francisco-based Virgin America airline. In a statement, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson shared his own family history — he's a father and grandfather of three — and recalled how difficult it was to manage work and being present during your child's first year. That's why the company wanted to enforce the extended parental leave.

If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While this is encouraging — that some companies are willing to recognize the difficulties facing new parents — it's also a sad reminder of how far behind the United States is compared to other countries. While many large U.S. companies offer their own parental leave plans, the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave. Europe is far more progressive, with most offering at least three months of nearly or full pay. And most countries also offer some sort of leave for fathers.

In January, President Obama called on Congress to pass a bill that would guarantee federal workers six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or an ill family member. But that still falls short of what this country needs for all its new parents. Parental leave won't be the hottest topic of this upcoming election, but with so much talk about working mothers and the gender wage gap, it would be great to see some candidates take the mantle.

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