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Stonyfield adopts six months of paid parental leave

Last modified: 10/11/2015 10:25:42 PM
Stonyfield Farm will debut one of the most generous paid maternity leave programs in America next summer.

The Londonderry-based organic yogurt maker announced it will offer six months of paid maternity leave to mothers or the primary caregiver in a same-sex couple, beginning in June 2016. Thirty-six percent of Stonyfield’s 371 employees are women.

“We’ve been able to see what a difference it makes for parents and for families and for children when the primary caregiver is able to spend a significant amount of time at home upon the arrival of a new child,” said Liza Dube, communications and public relations director at Stonyfield. “Other countries all over the world offer this as a standard policy. It felt like it was time for us to catch up.”

Terie Norelli, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, called Stonyfield’s announcement “great news.”

“At the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, we believe that creating family-friendly workplaces is key to eliminating gender stereotypes, particularly the one that says women are supposed to be in the home and men are supposed to be in the workplace,” Norelli, a former Democratic state representative, said. “And certainly part of creating a family-friendly workplace is paid leave.”

The announcement was part of a broader initiative of Stonyfield’s parent company, French-based Danone. Danone is part of the newly announced Clinton Global Initiative’s Working Parent Support Coalition that includes the U.S.-based divisions and subsidiaries of Barclays, Ernst & Young, KKR and Nestle. The coalition will share best practices and make policy adjustments to support mothers and working families, Dube said.

“Each company has made their own pledge, their own commitment, to in some way help support women in the workplace,” Dube said.

Far behind

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of leave upon the arrival of a new child, and to return to the same or an equal position. The law has been in place since 1993.

In most cases, that leave is unpaid.

Three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – have paid family leave through employee-paid payroll taxes. Some employers offer the benefit in other states; for example, Google offers five months of paid parental leave. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 13 percent of workers had paid family leave.

“If you look at polling, citizens overwhelmingly support a paid family leave policy,” Norelli said. “Whether or not there’s legislative support is another story. That’s why at the Women’s Foundation, we are working to try to engage businesses to try to put these in place voluntarily.”

But paid family leave is a fact of life for many employees in other developed countries. According to PolitiFact, the U.K. and Australia both allow a full year off, though not all of that time is paid. For a company with international ties, Dube said Stonyfield’s move made sense.

“The U.S. is really, really far behind when it comes to this kind of thing,” Dube said. “We’ve been able to watch many of our sister companies all over the world be able to offer this kind of policy.”

Making progress

A paid parental leave policy, Norelli said, is just a first step.

“Changing policies alone isn’t enough,” Norelli said. “You have to change the culture and practice, and I give (Stonyfield) lots of credit for working to change culture.”

She pointed to other employers in New Hampshire that have implemented other family-friendly policies – like W.S. Badger Company in Gilsum, the maker of Badger Balm.

Badger does not offer paid parental leave, but it does have an extended maternity leave policy, a babies-at-work policy and a subsidy for child care. New parents can bring infants up to 6 months old to work; then, the company will contribute to the cost of child care at a nearby day care and, as kids get older, summer camp.

“It’s the right thing to do by families,” said Emily Hall-Warren, director of administration.

And policies that are supportive of parents and families make for happier employees, she said.

“I think we have a lot of retention, and people are interested and engaged in working at Badger because of these policies,” Hall-Warren said. “I also like to look at it from an employee satisfaction perspective.”

Hall-Warren said she was excited to hear other companies adopting paid family leave, and she hoped to see legislative approval of such a policy.

“If that doesn’t pass, I would think it would be something that Badger would consider doing on our own,” she said. “I would really like to see a national solution, if not a statewide solution.”

Stonyfield’s policy does not cover fathers or men who are not the primary caretakers in a same-sex couple.

“Not yet,” Dube added. “Hopefully, progress will keep moving.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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