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A BIG STICK

Microsoft is requiring its suppliers to provide paid parental leave

A father holds his baby's foot
Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia
More time to bond.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Microsoft has been called a corporate bully, able to use its influence to force partners to work on its terms. Now the tech giant is again throwing around its considerable weight, but in the name of progress: It has announced that all of its suppliers with more than 50 employees must offer their employees paid parental leave of at least 12 weeks, at $1,000 per week. Failure to comply would mean losing Microsoft’s business.

In a blog post, Dev Stahlkopf, general counsel at Microsoft, laid out the rationale for the decision, first acknowledging that the stipulation might mean that Microsoft will face higher costs. (The tech giant will be reaching out to its suppliers to talk through the process for implementing the policy, he said.)

The change was inspired by family leave legislation passed into law last year, and set to take effect in 2020, in Microsoft’s home state of Washington. It will mandate paid parental leave for all workers, making Washington the fifth state to take such a step in a country where, under federal rules, women are still not guaranteed maternity leave with pay.

Although the Washington state law would cover those who work for Microsoft vendors located in the company’s home state, those who work for contractors elsewhere would otherwise get left behind, Stahlkopf writes. The company has contracts with more than 1,000 firms across the country, according to The Washington Post. “So, we made a decision to apply Washington’s parental leave requirement more broadly, and not to wait until 2020 to begin implementation,” he explains.

The policy, which normalizes practices long in place in every other developed economy, is also in keeping with a couple of other big trends. For one, corporations are increasingly stepping in to fill in gaps where government legislation has failed to secure a decent, or better, quality of life for American workers. Now there’s public pressure on companies to extend some of their generous benefits to other people who make their products or services possible, including the employees of third-party vendors who may work in the cafeteria, or at an the on-site dry cleaner, or across town at an IT-services firm. These workers often earn an hourly wage, or go from contract to contract, without benefits or job security.

Companies are heeding the call, but slowly. In 2015, Microsoft and Facebook both declared that employees of any of their substantial suppliers must earn $15 per hour and receive 15 days of paid leave.

There’s an abundance of evidence to convince employers of the wisdom behind offering paid parental leave. Stahlkopf cites studies that show those who offer the benefit to new mothers see increased productivity and less turnover. He touts the rewards for both partners, including fathers, noting that data show they’re more likely to take time off for longer periods, to bond with and care for their child, when their job offers paid leave. More broadly, paid leave leads to healthier mothers and infants, and empowers women to stay in the workforce.

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