What we can learn from AT&T’s new parental leave policy.

Yesterday morning, AT&T’s Global Director of Policy reached out to PL+US to announce an expansion of their paid parental leave program — a direct response to a campaign we launched last month to reveal the family leave policies at the 60 largest employers in the U.S.

We’re proud that our drive to reveal the policies at top employers has led to thousands of dads and adoptive parents at AT&T having access to parental leave for the first time. That’s significant, especially when you consider that only 13% of the private workforce currently has access to even a single day of paid family leave.

Here’s what happened: in November, AT&T confirmed that they offered paid leave only to birth moms for childbirth recovery — new dads and adoptive parents were allowed zero paid parental leave. Then we released our top 60 Employers campaign and report to headlines like this one from Fortune: Here’s Why Top U.S. Employers are Super Secretive about Paid Leave.

Yesterday, AT&T sent us this note:

We are pleased to announce… Effective Jan. 1, all management employees — including fathers — with at least six months of service will be eligible for two weeks of paid parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. For recovering mothers, these two weeks are in addition to their medically supported STD time off. Parents are also eligible for additional unpaid leave to care for newborns or newly adopted children within the first 12 months following birth or adoption.

AT&T is certainly taking a step in the right direction. What we can learn from their announcement is that discriminatory policies that leave out dads and adoptive parents are no longer acceptable in the modern workplace. Our report meant they couldn’t hide anymore.

Still, we know from the numerous recent announcements of paid family leave policies at other companies (like AmEx, IKEA, and Chobani) that when a company is “pleased to announce” something, they send a press release. AT&T didn’t do that, and it’s easy to see why. Their new policy just keeps them from scraping the bottom of the barrel; it’s not bold or revolutionary — it’s not enough.

Any parent can tell you that 2 weeks is far from enough time with a new child, and scrimping on leave for dads and adoptive parents undermines the principles of equality and universality essential to a strong family leave policy.

In addition, excluding non-managerial staff is out of step with recent corporate movement toward giving the same parental leave benefits to all employees, evidenced by new policies from Ikea, Hilton, and others. At AT&T, presumably thousands of non-management staff are left out (AT&T hasn’t responded to our request for information about how many employees are covered by the management-only policy).

AT&T is flying under the radar because their new policy isn’t much to crow about, and they’re not alone.

Two other companies on our list of policies at the largest employers in the U.S. have also been pretty darn quiet about their policies. Starbucks, which provides only 6 weeks of leave to birth moms and adoptive parents of any gender while providing zero time for biological dads (a nonsensical approach no matter how you look at it) stands out for their slowness to address this clear gap. And Verizon leaves out dads and adoptive parents.

Verizon is interesting because they directly compete with AT&T for talent. Their current publicly stated paid parental leave policy is 2 weeks for birth moms and nothing for dads or adoptive parents, although we’ve received informal reports that their policy might be different.

UPDATE AS OF 10:00AM ON 12/16: Verizon has provided us with updated information as to their paid parental leave policy which includes 2 weeks for all new parents (including dads and adoptive parents), as well as 6–8 weeks disability leave for new moms.

Given the expanded policy at AT&T, now would be a terrific time for Verizon to surge forward in the family leave arms race and reveal improved policies that meet the fundamental principles of an excellent policy.

There is a lot of work to do to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has access to paid parental leave, and we look forward to working with AT&T, Verizon, and other top companies to ensure the adoption of policies that meet the standard for what working people in the United States and their families need.

One thing is clear: When companies have to tell the truth about their parental leave, many have a lot to be embarrassed about. At PL+US, we’ll be working hard to make sure that our next top 60 employer report features more companies with policies to be proud of. Join us.


PL+US: Paid Leave for the US, is a new, national campaign to win paid family and medical leave for everyone in the United States by growing public engagement, dialogue, and advocacy for the issue.