Virgin Group offers one year paid paternity leave – to some

Richard Branson's Virgin Group is raising the bar on paternity leave. What does paternity leave look like for dads elsewhere?

Mike Segar/Reuters
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson speaks during a news conference in New York City on Nov. 30.

Some employees of Virgin Group will now be able to take 12 months paid paternity leave, founder Richard Branson announced. 

"As a father and now a grandfather to three wonderful grandchildren, I know how magical the first year of a child's life is but also how much hard work it takes," Branson said in a statement. "Being able to spend as much time as possible with your loved ones is absolutely vital, especially early on."

Paid paternity leave is growing in popularity, both in America and around the world. According to a study done by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 94 percent of new dads in the US take some time off, ranging from a few days to several weeks. On average, they found, dads take two weeks paid leave. 

Facebook and Google, two of the most father-friendly employers in America, offer 17 weeks and 12 weeks, respectively, though Google's drops to 7 weeks for dads who aren't the primary caregiver. Goldman Sachs recently increased their paternity leave allowance from two weeks to four, and grants 16 weeks to primary-caregiver fathers. But Virgin Group's new one-year policy dwarfs even the generous minimum of two months offered in Sweden and comparable offers in other Nordic countries. 

This opportunity does not extend to all Virgin Group employees. One year of paid leave is available only to fathers employed by Virgin Management, the Virgin Group’s investment and brand-licensing firm, which is based in London and Geneva and employs about 140 people. Additionally, only those who have worked for Virgin Management for four years or more are eligible for the full 12 months.  

Virgin's announcement probably won't have any immediate effect on US employers, says Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the New York-based Families and Work Institute. 

"In reality, it’s probably just an example of a company trying to keep some key employees from skydiving into the job market by making sure its benefits exceed the national standards," he writes

However, research shows that longer paid paternity leave has advantages for both employees and employers. A wide-reaching survey of paternity studies found that when men take an active role in their children's upbringing, it benefits their health, their relationships, and their children. It has economic advantages as well: when men and women are able to more equally share household and childcare responsibilities, women are able to take a more active role in the labor force. 

"If you take care of your employees they will take care of your business," writes Branson. "Health and wellbeing in the workplace should play a critical part in every company’s thinking. The more you support your staff, the happier and healthier your business will be."

A Virgin Group spokesperson told ABC News that the company is "working hard on making this happen in the US" and hopes to have updates within the next few months.

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