Netflix, the online movie streaming service, will now offer employees unlimited maternity or paternity leave for the first year after the birth or adoption of a child, the company announced Tuesday in a statement.
"We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances," Tawni Cranz, Netflix's chief talent officer, said. "Parents can return part time, full time or return and then go back out as needed. We'll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay."
The benefits come in addition to the company's long-standing "unlimited vacation" policy that allows workers — in theory — to take as much time off as they want.
The move, however, was greeted with skepticism by at least one former employee. Darren Thiesfeld, who worked as a vendor account specialist, told Mic he didn't buy the company's stated sincerity.
"The unlimited maternity leave policy is nothing but smoke and mirrors and more of a publicity stunt," he said. "As with the unlimited vacation policy at Netflix, this policy is ideal on paper, but the reality is vastly different."
Thiesfeld said turnover at the company was high and those who made use of Netflix's generous leave policy were frowned upon by management and lived in constant fear of being replaced.
"Most new hires don't make it to the six-month mark and therefore are unable to take advantage of any of these policies, and those that do are shunned and in constant fear of being replaced," he said.
Nevertheless, the policy now puts Netflix at the forefront of companies providing maternity and paternity benefits. With the yearlong leave, Netflix tops a Care.com survey of some of the best companies in the U.S. measured by paid parental time off, and sets a new bar for previous leaders like Ernst & Young and Cisco, which offer 39 weeks and six months, respectively.
The move by Netflix also puts it far ahead of existing U.S. law too. In the United States, there is no federal guarantee of paid maternity or paternity leave. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act assures only 12 weeks a year, unpaid, with a work return guarantee. The act only applies to full-time workers at companies with more than 50 employees. Roughly 50% of Americans fall outside the limitations of the existing statute.
The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee workers some form of paid leave. In many European countries, far from relying on the goodwill of individual companies, lawmakers have codified paid time off into national laws. In Austria, new parents can get 81 weeks, in Finland 158 and in Slovakia 164 — that's more than three years.
Netflix's decision now puts its workers slightly below those in Slovenia.