By Rachel Lerman The Seattle Times.
Amazon.com has boosted its maternity benefit to up to 20 weeks of paid leave for new birth mothers, joining a growing number of tech companies expanding benefits to retain hard-to-find technical talent.
The company sent an internal email Monday outlining the changes, which take effect Jan. 1 and apply to babies born or adopted since Oct. 1.
Under the policy, new parents of either gender who have worked at Amazon for at least a year will get six weeks of paid leave. That applies to birth parents and parents who adopt children.
Added to the 10 weeks birth moms are offered, plus four weeks of medical leave some moms qualify for, some of those mothers now have up to 20 weeks of paid time off.
This is the first time Amazon has offered paid time off for new fathers.
Amazon also introduced a "leave share program" that allows employees to gift all or part of the six-week leave to a spouse or partner who does not have paid parental leave through his or her own work.
That means the Amazon employee would come back to work, and his or her partner could get paid by Amazon to stay home and care for the child.
The announcement comes in the wake of Netflix's highly publicized policy change this year, which gave employees up to a year of paid leave after birth or adoption of a child.
Microsoft followed suit almost immediately after, adding eight weeks of paid leave for new parents.
Amazon's expanded benefits come not long after a New York Times investigation found that some Amazon employees were critical of the company's work culture and were not happy with the benefits offered. The company has disputed the account.
Expanding benefits and perks has become almost routine for tech companies in recent months. An October survey from employer review site Glassdoor.com found that 79 percent of employees surveyed wanted additional benefits more than a pay raise.
Tech companies often implement changes before businesses in other industries because recruiting for engineering and other talent is so competitive, said Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski.
"The war for talent is so incredibly fierce in the tech industry, that (companies) will do anything and everything to attract and keep the very best talent on hand," he said.
Although Amazon's expanded benefits are a good step, Dobroski said, it's still far behind many of its fellow tech giants.
Microsoft offers at least 12 weeks for parents regardless of gender. Google has been offering at least 12 weeks, and up to 22 weeks, for several years.
"Amazon's policy can vary from parent to parent, and 20 weeks has actually already been seen by Google and some other companies for a few years," Dobroski said. "So (Amazon) is actually a bit behind chronologically and in terms of perks and benefits."
Chances are, Amazon knows that. It seems unlikely, Dobroski said, that the company would make a change without studying what its specific employee demographic wanted.
Amazon said it reviews its benefits every year and began focus groups and surveys about parental leave early this year.
Amazon's expanded benefits extend to full-time workers employed in Amazon's distribution centers. That contrasts with Netflix's policy, which has been criticized for leaving out employees in its DVD-by-mail division.
Another piece of Amazon's expanded-benefits announcement involves the "ramp back program," which allows birth moms and primary caregivers to work either half time or three-quarter time during their first eight weeks back at work.
Under Amazon's policy, birth mothers can take four weeks of paid leave before giving birth if a doctor determined it to be medically necessary.
Birth mothers then can have 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, and six weeks of paid parental leave.
Previously, mothers had eight weeks of paid time off and 12 weeks of unpaid time off.
Adding paid leave for fathers should help women feel more comfortable about taking a leave, said Sophie Leroy, an assistant professor at University of Washington Bothell's business school.
"The caregiver role is not just associated with women," Leroy said.
The real change will be felt over time, she said, depending on how the policy is viewed internally.
"The behaviors of those in middle and upper management will signal if it's appropriate to take the leave or not," Leroy said. Amazon's changes probably won't end here.
Although Dobroski doubts Amazon's changes are because of The New York Times article, he said it's clear the company is taking a look at workplace culture and balance.
"It's going to take a lot more than a one-time hit," Dobroski said. "There could be more of this."