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Movement aims to make work more family friendly, less 'hostile'

For new parents, having time to bond with their newborn is often at odds with rigid work schedules. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave.

The U.S. has no federally mandated paid family leave time, while countries such as Iran and Mexico both guarantee 12 weeks maternity leave. China has 13 weeks. Canada has 15 weeks and the United Kingdom allows 40 weeks. Recently, however, some major technology companies—including Microsoft, Netflix and Adobe—have announced they are expanding paid parental leave benefits.

Read MoreNetflix to offer employees up to one year of parental leave

While encouraging, those moves fall short of what some observers think are a set of U.S. workplace rules that aren't family friendly enough. Currently, only a handful of states have laws on their books that provide paid family leave for parenting. Employees in California and New Jersey can receive up to six weeks, while Rhode Island allows up to four weeks.

"The United States has the most family hostile public policy in the entire developed world," Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. In an interview with CNBC's "On The Money," Williams says that situation is being partly addressed because of a tight labor market for key talent, particularly in Silicon Valley's hotly competitive technology sector.

"One of the ways that employers are competing is by trying to offer better leave and more family friendly benefits." Williams added. "That's a real change. That's striking."

No more 'stitching together' leave time?

Mother and child workplace
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Microsoft recently expanded its policy to give 20 weeks for mothers and 12 weeks for fathers. Separately, Adobe Systems increased its maternal leave to 26 weeks, and 16 weeks for new dads.

Donna Morris, a senior vice president at Adobe Systems, told CNBC in an interview that most new mothers were "stitching together" personal time off. In many cases, the standard leave time ran about five months. "So we decided that given the average amount of time was five to six months, we'd provide 26 weeks of fully paid benefits." said Morris.

Netflix went even further by doubling that amount leave time. The video streaming company announced its top talent, men and women, will be eligible for up to a full year of paid leave.

Yet will workers take the full time off available to them? Williams tells CNBC that researchers have documented a "flexibility stigma." This happens when "people feel it might be a career killer to take" an extended leave of absence from work. She says that fear holds true for both men and women.

However, Adobe's Morris has a different view. "We believe people will actually take the 26 weeks, because we've defined it. I believe this is going to be a great effective program for both the attraction of talent but also the retention of our great employees too."


Millenials lead the charge for flexibility

Stew Friedman, professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, said that companies are gradually shifting their policies in order to keep good employees. "The cost of turnover, especially for professional talent is enormous," he said.

Friedman acknowledged there is a short-term cost for companies in implementing longer parental leave, but the long-term benefits are significant.

"If you invest in the whole person, you get commitment, loyalty and extraordinary effort," Friedman said, adding that if you treat people "as full human beings, they become ambassadors and advocates for your company."

The academic, who is also founding director of Wharton's Work/Life integration project, told CNBC he sees the change in corporate leave policy being led by younger workers within the 18 to 34 age group.

"Millennials are clearly pushing it to really demand more flexibility" between work and the rest of their life, he added.

A recent study by Ernst & Young suggested that work-life balance is important for that demographic. It found 75 percent of millennials want flexible work hours, but also expect to be on track for a promotion. As more companies become amenable to family time, opinion is divided about whether states and the federal government will adapt to the movement.

"I'm not sure I see changes in public policy, I'm sad to say," Williams said. "In the countries that have paid leave they have much stronger unions and a more proactive attitude towards government."

Yet Wharton's Friedman has a different view, saying that, "I see a push for national legislation, emerging from millennials." He pointed to initiatives like the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. "It's family medical insurance leave and its legislation" backed by President Barack Obama. The bill proposes up to 12 weeks paid leave to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a new child.

Friedman tells CNBC that next week, he and 150 fellow faculty from the top 25 business schools will submit a signed letter to Congress in support of the legislation.

"Will it (the FAMILY Act) pass now? Probably not," Friedman said. "But it is getting the kind of public attention and push from young people and from employers that I think eventually we're going to see it," he added.

"On the Money" airs on CNBC Sundays at 7:30 p.m. ET, or check listings for airtimes in local markets.