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Amazon's parental leave policy gets competitive

Amazon is revamping its parental leave policy to include more time off and flexible options for parents to divide up their time. But in the competitive tech word, will employees feel comfortable taking the time off? 

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An Amazon.com package awaits delivery from UPS in Palo Alto, Calif (2010). Amazon is extending their parental leave policies.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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Expectant Amazon employees just received a massive baby shower gift, straight from corporate.

On Tuesday, the e-retail behemoth became the latest tech company to extend generous parental benefits for employees. While slow to the parental-benefits-party launched by companies like Netflix and Microsoft in August, Amazon has attempted to set itself apart with its new policy, detailed in an internal memo to employees, according to the Huffington Post.

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In total, Amazon is offering new mothers 20 weeks of paid time off, an increase from the eight weeks offered by the previous company policy. The 20 weeks consist of four weeks of paid pre-partum medical leave, 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, and six weeks of paid parental leave. The paid parental leave is also available for new fathers, the first time the company has offered that benefit.

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In addition to the added leave time, Amazon’s new plan also offers two more creative features. The “ramp back” feature allows new parents to ease back into a full work week by working reduced hours for reduced pay for up to 8 weeks. “Leave share” will allow Amazon employees to share paid leave with spouses that don’t receive paid parental leave.

"In developing these new policies, we focused on inventing features which create choice and flexibility," the internal memo stated.

With “leave share,” if an Amazon employee decided to only take a few weeks of their parental leave, they could gift the rest of their leave to a spouse that can prove he or she does not receive paid time off. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, full-time employees in the US are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave without being at risk of losing their jobs.   

I’ve been doing this for 20-something years and I’ve never heard of anything like this," Bruce Elliott, a manager at Society for Human Resource Management, told the Washington Post.

The reasons behind Amazon’s new policies are complicated, but some recent evidence that suggests companies that help employees integrate work and life, rather than rigidly separate them, reap the rewards.

Speaking to The Christian Science Monitor in  August, Ron Friedman, a social psychologist, pointed to Patagonia as a successful model for work-life integration. The outdoor clothing manufacturer encourages employees to set their own hours and provides daycare, and its profits have tripled over the past five years.

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However, even with the new policies in place that could provide greater flexibility and greater work-life balance, some critics argue that workers in competitive environments will be reluctant to use them. Amazon, in particular, came under fire over the summer in a New York Times story that detailed a fast-paced work culture at the tech giant that punishes employees who can't keep up. 

“These young men won’t take paternity leave and these young women won’t even get pregnant – because it looks bad,” argues Robert Reich , an economist and the labor secretary under the Clinton Administration who engineered the current version of the FMLA. “...you’re either on the fast track or you’re on a dead-end road.”