Web Exclusive | March 2017 | By Bryan Reesman

Parental Leave Has a Promising Future in Fast Food

Leaders like Yum! Brands and Starbucks are paving the way for a more progressive future.
Yum! Brands, which includes Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, is raising the bar. Getty Images for Taco Bell
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As some quick-service companies look for ways to stand out from the competition and offer better work incentives for their employees, an important issue is paid parental leave. With such a high turnover in the sector, this seems like the ideal time for companies to address the issue, which can boost employee morale and improve worker retention if handled well.

"One thing you learn when you're in the compensation and the benefits space is that there's energy to try to just be like everybody else, and in our business to try to get away with the minimum sometimes because we're a low-margin business," says Mark Lagestee, vice president of global talent and organization development for Yum! Brands, which includes Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. "We really are passionate about being different in certain areas that we think are important to the employees. When you're different than everybody else and the employees care about that difference, you attract people and you retain people."

Yum! Brands recently upgraded their parental leave policy. In the U.S., birth mothers previously could get between six to eight fully paid weeks of leave. Now, they may receive 18 weeks, while fathers may also receive six weeks of "baby bonding time," whereas they had none before.

"It's definitely not typical in our industry," Lagestee says. "There are some other companies that offer this, [but] there are very few. Our dads are pumped about this. This plan is [also] true for adoptive parents and foster parents. This is extremely unique."

He says that Yum! Brand employees have been giving the policy "a really energetic response," not just from future and potential parents but from everybody in the company.

“They're happy that we're committed to family and are combining benefits are different than everybody else," he says.

Beyond parental leave, Lagestee says, Yum! Brands implemented a new half-day Fridays policy starting January 1 for employees in their U.S. headquarters in Kentucky, Texas, and California, as well as area and region coaches, and other operational leaders in the field. They have also amended their vacation policy.

"We went from new employees getting two weeks and people with five or 10 years experience getting three weeks to everybody getting four weeks off," Lagestee says. "Then on a big anniversary—10 years or 20 years or 30 years—you get a bonus two weeks off during that time. We aren't calling it a sabbatical, but the idea came from the world of education where people get sabbaticals."

WorkingMothers magazine released its list of 100 Best Companies for 2016 and ranked organizations on everything from advancement to parental leave. While the survey does not include restaurant chains, both Yum! Brands and Oregon-based chain Laughing Planet Cafe rank better in paid weeks off than about 50 percent of the companies listed. Since early 2015, Laughing Planet Cafe has offered birth and adoptive mothers a full 12 weeks of paid leave.

Coffee giant Starbucks recently announced benefit changes to its parental leave program. The company reports that they are expanding parental benefits in 2017. As stated on the company's website, beginning October 1 for store partners, birth mothers will receive six weeks of 100 percent paid leave for recovery and 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, while non-birth parents will be able to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. For non-store partners, birth mothers will be able to take up to 18 weeks of paid leave, and non-birth parents up to 12 weeks of paid leave.

“While we have made substantial investments in our partners, we want to continue to do more,” says Kevin Johnson, president and COO of Starbucks through a statement on the company's website. “This is one of many steps we are actively taking to evolve our benefits and create a Partner Experience that lives up to our aspirations.”

Parental leave extends beyond the restaurant business into a full national issue. In December 2016, Washington D.C. passed the Universal Paid-Leave Amendment Act, which grants all full and part-time private workers in the city eight weeks of leave at up to 90 percent of their full weekly wages for birth, adoptive, and fostering parents. The bill also includes six weeks of family leave for people to look after a sick relative and two weeks for a personal medical emergency. It is superior to 1993's federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which mandated 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected maternity leave to full-time workers at companies with over 50 employees.

In 2016, New York and San Francisco passed similar bills like the one in D.C. New York now offers 12 weeks of paid time off for all full-time and part-time workers who are new parents or who need to care for sick relatives. San Francisco offers six fully paid weeks of leave for new parents of all genders.