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More tech companies provide generous parental leave

Over the past week, Netflix, Microsoft and now Adobe have announced more generous parental leave policies. More businesses may follow suit, but it's a trend most workers aren't likely to benefit from quite yet.

Adobe announced Monday that, effective Nov. 1, it will expand its two-week paid parental leave policy to four weeks for non-primary caregivers and 16 weeks for primary caregivers. Including medical leave, new moms giving birth will be able to take 26 weeks paid, up from a current 16. All full-time U.S. employees are eligible.

The announcement comes on the heels of policy revisions from Microsoft and Netflix. Effective Nov. 1, Microsoft will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all new mothers and fathers, which can be taken continuously or split it into two periods. Currently, the policy allows for four weeks paid and eight unpaid. Neftlix's new policy allows new moms and dads to take time, return and go back out as needed over baby's first year while receiving regular pay from Netflix without applying for state or disability pay.

They're just the latest in a string of big-name companies to offer more generous parental leave. Google, Facebook and Twitter are among other companies that rank among those most generous with leave.

In March, Vodafone began requiring its 30 globally operating companies to offer at least 16 weeks of fully paid leave to expectant mothers. A month later, Johnson & Johnson added seven weeks to its parental leave policy, allowing all new parents to take up to eight weeks of paid leave during the first year after a birth or adoption. (Mothers who give birth can take up to 17 weeks paid.)

"We are seeing a trend in this direction," said Carol Sladek, partner and work-life consulting lead at benefits administration firm Aon Hewitt. More client companies have been calling the firm to explore expanding or streamlining the "patchwork quilt" of benefits offered to employees who give birth or adopt. "These kinds of broad-stroke work-life programs do tend to get a lot of attention," she said.

The early adopters seem to have decided the costs of implementing generous leave are outweighed by the benefits for recruitment and retention, said employment attorney Dan Eaton, a professor at San Diego State University's College of Business Administration. "This could be viewed as of a kind with other adjustments to workplace policies and the workplace environment that are being made to accommodate the demands of millennials in an increasingly tight labor market," he said.

"It's a very welcome sign that, hopefully, change is on the way," said Vickie Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Family. "But there's still a huge divide between the people who work at these companies and the rest of America." Just 13 percent of workers have access to paid family leave, said Shabo.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn child. Three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—also provide for some paid family leave for residents.

"Organizations tend to have a disjointed approach," said Sladek. There might be one policy for moms who give birth, another for new dads, and a third for a worker adopting a child—all with different leave lengths and terms.

Most new parents end up cobbling together time off from vacation, personal and sick days, with some moms eligible for additional time through short-term disability policies. (Perhaps not surprisingly, how long to take off from work after having a baby is the top fight pregnant women have with their spouse, according to a NerdWallet survey from earlier this year.)

Even those workers who stand to benefit from the trend of more generous leave shouldn't expect "unlimited" leave a la Netflix's offering, said Sladek. Netflix already had a culture of unlimited vacation, which made a similar parental leave policy a natural extension, she said. Most companies have more rigid policy terms.

Nor does access to benefits mean workers will take advantage.

Shabo said that, based on Labor Department data, 70 percent of dads take 10 days or less of leave after the birth of a child. A 2012 study of college professors found that while 69 percent of women took paid parental leave, only 12 percent of men did—and many did so to complete research or publish papers rather than pitch in with child care.

"There's still that societal expectation that men are not the intended beneficiary of a parental leave policy despite its gender neutral name," said Eaton.

Update: This story has been updated to incorporate Adobe's policy announcement.