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    Patagonia Supports Paid Leave. You Should Too.

    Patagonia supports employees with paid leave to care for themselves or an immediate family member. We do it because it’s the right thing to do for employees and their families–and because it’s good for our business. But this kind of support is far too uncommon in the United States, where just 13 percent of workers have access to paid family and medical leave. We’re the only industrialized country without a law that gives workers paid leave when serious family or medical needs arise.

    Above: Patagonia Supports Paid Leave. You Should Too. Video: Patagonia

    Passing the FAMILY Act would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time for their own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery; the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner; the birth or adoption of a child; and/or for particular military caregiving and leave purposes. Call on your representatives in Congress to co-sponsor the FAMILY Act today.


    Take_action_largeTAKE ACTION NOW

    Visit the National Partnership for Women & Families and ask your representatives in Congress to co-sponsor the FAMILY Act.

    Support paid leave


    Having on-site child care is priceless for both dad and daughter. Patagonia HQ. Photo: Kyle Sparks


    Why Strong Families Build Strong Businesses

    By Dean Carter, Patagonia VP

    In the United States, up to 35 percent of working women who give birth never return to their jobs. Meanwhile, the cost of replacing employees can range from 35 to 200 percent of a worker’s salary, depending on seniority.

    If this seems like a shocking economic inefficiency, consider that American businesses provide paid family leave to just 13 percent of U.S. workers. Often, we bend our lives in order to meet the responsibilities of our jobs, which provide the financial means to support ourselves and our families. But employers rarely bend to meet the needs of families in return.

    Yes, federal law requires job protected unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act and some states have expanded on the federal standard—but income protection is basically nonexistent. And very few employers offer the essential benefit of high-quality, on-site child care.

    The result? In too many cases, American workers must choose between meeting financial needs for their families or properly caring for loved ones in other critical ways, like caring for a newborn or dealing with a family emergency.

    Creating a workplace that supports family life is the right thing to do. But it’s also the right decision economically. These aren’t perks, but investments in people that pay off—financially and in other ways.


    Spending time with your child doesn’t have to make waves in the workplace. Patagonia HQ. Photo: Kyle Sparks


    Prioritizing families has a business benefit—the proof is in the data

    Family-affirming policies reduce turnover costs, including lost productivity while a position is vacant, plus recruitment, relocation, and training time. This can range from 35 percent of annual salary for a non-managerial employee, to 125 percent of salary for a manager, to a couple years’ pay for a director or vice president.

    At Patagonia, over the past five years, we’ve seen 100 percent of moms return to work after maternity leave. Turnover for parents who have children in our on-site child care program runs 25 percent less than for our own general employee population. And public policy helps. Under California’s paid family leave program, the average length of leave has doubled, with the greatest benefit accruing to women of color and in lower-wage jobs.

    Studies also show that employees who feel supported by their companies tend to be more engaged in their work, and engaged workers are more productive. In California, nearly 90 percent of businesses surveyed about the effects of the California paid leave program reported either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on productivity. At Patagonia, employee engagement has translated directly into business success—profits have tripled in recent years, allowing us to reinvest in our mission.

    More broadly, paid leave helps our economy from slipping behind. Out of 185 countries and territories in the world surveyed by the International Labor Organization, the United States is one of only two countries to offer no federal paid maternity leave (the other is Papua New Guinea).


    Patagonia’s family policies began as frantic solutions for colleagues who were struggling to breastfeed and care for their babies without losing their jobs. As research mounted showing that mothers and infants benefit physically and emotionally from nursing, we developed systems that let families prolong nursing past the crucial first six months. Patagonia HQ. Photo: Kyle Sparks


    So, what can U.S. employers do to encourage strong families, healthier kids and a competitive, skilled workforce?

    1. Employers should get behind the FAMILY Act, which creates a national standard for paid family and medical leave to help reduce costs and level our competitive playing field while allowing workers to meet their health needs and caregiving responsibilities. The FAMILY Act was first introduced in Congress two years ago and has since picked up substantial support—yet it hasn’t been heard in committee or voted on by legislators. Let’s push our elected officials to make paid family leave a law in our country.
    1. Every company with 200 employees in one place or more should seriously consider the introduction of high-quality, on-site child care. This allays the anxiety for all new parents and is the next best thing to having them within eyesight or earshot. Good child care is expensive, but at Patagonia we estimate that we earn back 90-125 percent of our paid subsidy for our on-site child care program (a big reason we recently expanded the program from our California headquarters to our 400-employee distribution center in Nevada as well). Independent studies show similar returns on this kind of investment for other companies.
    1. Consider a diverse but holistic package of family-affirming policies, including flex time, private space for lactation, adoption assistance, travel support programs for nursing mothers, and child care subsidies for companies that don’t provide on-site care.

    Yes, there are financial costs inherent in building a family-affirming workplace, but the benefits—financial and otherwise—pay off the investment year after year.

    I’ve seen firsthand the power of a workplace that prioritizes families. It’s time for real action by American businesses to help our families successfully meet their challenges. As a bonus, American businesses would find greater success as well.

    Business leaders (and their CFOs) should take note.


    Fresh off a healthy breakfast in the café, grandpa and granddaughter head to desk and child care respectively. Patagonia HQ. Photo: Kyle Sparks


    Take_action_largeTAKE ACTION NOW

    Visit the National Partnership for Women & Families and ask your representatives in Congress to co-sponsor the FAMILY Act.

    Support paid leave





    Dean Carter is a Vice President leading HR, Finance and Legal at Patagonia. This op-ed was first published by Business Insider.

    Interested in a career at Patagonia? Learn more about working here and check our current job openings.



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