An Estee Lauder counter is shown a Macy's store in downtown Seattle on Friday, Nov. 26, 2010.

  • Estée Lauder is expanding its parental leave policy in the USA.
  • The expanded benefits package now includes 20 weeks of paid leave, $10,000 toward adoption, and a back-to-work transition programme — regardless of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. The company will also continue to offer $20,000 toward fertility treatments as well as in-home child care and elder care at a reduced rate.
  • The new programme is on par with many major tech companies, like IBM, Twitter, and Amazon.
  • Estée Lauder's Executive Director of Global Benefits told Business Insider that the company realises that no one family looks the same, which is why it wants to give employees multiple benefits options if they choose to have a child.

Starting May 1, Estée Lauder employees in the US who choose to have, foster, or adopt a child will get 20 weeks of paid leave — regardless of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. And if they conceive of that child themselves, they will receive an additional six to eight weeks of paid time off.

The new offerings are part of the company's expanded family-benefits programme. Employees at Estée Lauder can now also seek up to R123,000 ($10,000) for adoption fees.

Both hourly and salaried employees are eligible, as long as they work at least 30 hours per week and have been with the company at least three months. Before the change, Estée Lauder offered 12 weeks of paid parental leave. The company will continue to offer up to R248,000 ($20,000) per year toward fertility treatments, as well as child or elder care at a reduced rate to eligible workers.

In addition, the company is launching a back-to-work transition programme for new parents. As part of this six-week programmr, Estée will give parents flexibility on where and when they work. For example, a new mom could work from home a few days per week if she chooses, or a dad could adjust his schedule in that he comes in earlier and leaves earlier than the usual 9 to 5. And those who qualify for Estée's new childcare/eldercare programme expend a co-pay of R99 ($8) an hour.

The new parental-leave programme is a generous policy for a company as big as Estée Lauder. In the US, many parental-leave programmes prioritise birth mothers — and therefore offer limited benefits to fathers, adoptive parents, foster parents, or LGBT parents. Hourly workers are also less likely to receive an extensive amount of paid leave, even though they are more likely to not be able to afford newborn child care.

It's also fairly unusual to offer such a large reimbursement toward adoption, which costs between R422,910 ($34,093) and R495,000 ($39,966) on average for American parents. In recent years, a growing number of large American companies have started including adoption reimbursement as part of their benefits packages. American Express, for example, will give up to R434,161 ($35,000) per adoption to eligible, salaried and hourly employees.

One reason for Estée's expanded policy was to stay competitive when prospective employees are considering benefits packages from other companies, according to Latricia Parker, Estée Lauder's Executive Director of Global Benefits. Approximately 84% of Estée's American workforce are also women, who tend to take more parental leave than men.

Estée's expanded benefits package seeks to acknowledge that families are diverse as well. Its employees might want to adopt regardless of whether they're able to physically conceive. Fathers may be the lead parent and need some extra time off.

"We're seeing a general shift away from focusing on more traditional benefits, like medical and dental," Parker told BI. "Now, it's all about the individual, rather than employers dictating what's right for them. Employees want to understand the options available to them ... We [Estée Lauder] don't want to dictate what their families should look like."

The cosmetics giant is following several other major corporations that have recently made similar changes to their family-leave policies in the US. As of February 2018, the nation's 20 largest employers now offer paid parental leave to at least some of their workers. Out of these, IBM offers the most extensive family-leave programme for hourly and salaried employees: 20 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers and 12 weeks for other types of parents. As an outlier, Netflix announced in 2015 that it gives parents up to a year of paid time off.

All three companies offer many more weeks of paid parental leave than the national maternity-leave average: 2.8 weeks for women on a typical salary. According to a 2017 report, more than 114 million Americans do not have any form of paid parental leave.

The Family Medical Leave Act currently gives women 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave, but many workers don't qualify. In addition, only 6% of people working low-wage jobs have access to any paid family leave.

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