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Virgin Might Bring Its Year-Long Parental Leave to the US


Last week, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced that employees of Virgin Management in London and Geneva will receive a year of maternity or paternity leave, at full pay, to be shared between parents. Shortly after, a Virgin spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that the company was considering extending the policy to management in the U.S., as well, saying that they were “in the process of working hard on making this happen in the U.S., and hope to have an update in the coming months.”


(Photo Credit: Shinsuke JJ Ikegame/Flickr)

“If you take care of your employees they will take care of your business. That is a philosophy that has served us well for more than four decades, and is the foundation of everything we do at Virgin,” wrote Branson on his blog.

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Currently, Virgin’s extended leave applies only to management employees in London and Geneva, and only those who’ve worked for the company for four years. (Employees whose tenure is less than two years will receive 25 percent pay.) This means that the benefit extends to only 140 of the company’s 50,000 employees worldwide.

The Washington Post somewhat snarkily notes that only 0.2 percent of Virgin employees are eligible for this benefit – headline: Richard Branson has announced a great paid leave policy for 0.2 percent of his workers – but reporter Danielle Paquette concedes:

“Virtually no one offers this much paid paternity leave — and especially in the United States, where about 14 percent of employers report providing some amount of the benefit at all.”

Branson quote 

(Photo Credit: Mark Harkin/Flickr)

Branson’s announcement follows the U.K.’s new Shared Parental Leave Law, which allows parents to alternate leave blocks over the course of a year. Currently, paid parental leave in the U.S. is on the decline, according to the Families and Work Institute, which reports that only 9 percent of employees working for companies offering maternity leave benefits receive full pay during their leave. That’s down from 16 percent during 2008.

Paid leave for dads is even rarer, and most often found at employers like Google and Facebook, which offer competitive benefits as a means of attracting elite candidates.

The United States does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, and requires that employers provide only 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and then only if parents work for a company covered by FMLA.

In light of these facts, Virgin’s paid parental leave policy is good news, even if it does apply to a relative few. When government-mandated change is slow in coming, every bit of voluntary improvement on the behalf of employers counts.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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