IKEA is going to offer paid parental leave to the workers who need it most

Swedish meatballs, cheap furniture and generous worker benefits.
Swedish meatballs, cheap furniture and generous worker benefits.
Image: AP/Alan Diaz
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IKEA will offer all its US employees up to four months of paid parental leave, making the retailer one of the first companies to extend benefits to hourly employees that are usually available only to white-collar workers.

IKEA is joining companies like Ernst & Young, Deloitte and Bank of America in offering 16 weeks of leave to both parents, as well as adoptive and foster parents. Employees who have been at IKEA a year or more are eligible for up to three months, with six weeks at full pay and six weeks at 50% pay, while employees with three years of tenure can take four months, with two months at half pay. Mothers are also eligible for up to eight weeks of additional short-term disability leave after childbirth. IKEA  has 42 stores and more than 14,000 workers in the US. The policy, announced yesterday (Dec. 6), takes effect Jan. 1.

The US, alone alone among industrialized nations, has no federal law mandating paid leave and only a handful of states require it. Under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, passed during President Bill Clinton’s administration, most employers must offer up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for family members, including newborns. FMLA also covers serious illnesses of full-time employee, including pregnancy.

Because FMLA doesn’t require pay during leave, most new parents must depend on the goodwill of their employers to get paid while taking time off, but only 12% of employees are covered by such corporate parental leave policies, and those that do are often higher-paid, salaried workers. Low-income families without access to paid leave must either take unpaid leave, return to work before they are ready, or quit their jobs, all of which cost them money.

In IKEA’s native Sweden, of course, none of this would be an issue. Through Sweden’s taxpayer-funded social welfare system, parents share up to 480 days (almost 16 months) of paid parental leave, with 90 days reserved for father, and can use it until their child is eight years old.

Few, if any, large companies with a workforce of hourly employees have been willing to go as far as IKEA US (most employers don’t disclose their policies, so it’s hard to know for sure). Last year, Hilton Hotels announced a new policy covering all 40,000 US workers, including housekeepers and waiters, offering all new birth mothers 10 weeks of leave, but fathers and adoptive parents only get two weeks. Levi Strauss & Co. began offering all 5,700 US employees two months of leave starting Dec. 1, while mothers get additional time through short-term disability insurance.

While supporters of a federal paid leave policy had placed their hopes in a bill passing during a Hillary Clinton administration, Donald Trump campaigned on his plan for six weeks of paid leave for new mothers, funded through unemployment insurance. Until he follows up his promise with policy, private employers will have to fill the gap.

Correction: This post has been corrected to clarify employees are eligible for six weeks leave at full pay and six weeks at half pay.