Economy First Look

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg expands family leave time for those who mourn

Are American companies becoming kinder in their family leave policies?

Chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg speaks during a plenary session in the Congress Hall during the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2017. Ms. Sandberg has expanded Facebook's bereavement family leave policy.
Laurent Gillieron/Keyston/AP
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Facebook is extending its bereavement and family sick leave policies to give employees more time to mourn or take care of relatives, the social media giant announced Tuesday.

Workers will now get up to 20 days paid leave following the death of an immediate family member and up to 10 days to grieve for an extended family member, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a Facebook post announcing the changes. In addition, employees will be granted up to six weeks paid leave to care for a sick relative, and three days to look after a family member with a short-term illness – for example, a child with the flu. 

"People should be able both to work and be there for their families," Ms. Sandberg wrote. "We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and aging parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss. Making it easier for more Americans to be the workers and family members they want to be will make our economy and country stronger." 

The announcement comes amid growing support for paid family leave among American companies. A number of cities and states have also stepped in to institute paid family leave laws, as Harry Bruinius reported for The Christian Science Monitor last year: 

Part of the new momentum, many say, is a shift in priorities for many American workers, especially among a new generation of employees that is now placing a greater emphasis on time with family.

“Even business are now competing with each other, because they know that Millennials care a lot about this – men as well as women,” says Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of 21 state and local coalitions advocating for a more family-friendly workplace. “Governor Cuomo's remarks didn’t come out of the blue – there’s a robust, very broad and very diverse coalition” fighting for paid family leave, she says....

Tech behemoths such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple have revised their paid parental leave policies in recent years to attract and retain talent. In August, Netflix announced it would give employees up to a year of paid parental leave, and in November, the music-streaming company Spotify announced it would give its global employees six months paid leave.  

"Certainly there’s a momentum growing for paid family leave across the country," Vivien Labaton, co-executive director of Make it Work, a family advocacy group, told the Monitor. 

Still, more than half of the country's 60 largest employers offer no paid family leave or will not disclose their family leave policy, according to a study published in November. And just 6 out of 10 private sector workers get paid time off after the death of a loved one, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Typically, they are only granted a few days. 

For Sandberg, the decision to expand bereavement leave and family sick leave was in part a personal one. Her husband, Dave Goldberg, passed away in May 2015. 

"Amid the nightmare of Dave's death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility," Sandberg said in her Facebook post. "I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn't be."