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Netflix institutes ‘unlimited’ maternity and paternity leave for workers

One tiny step for babies, one giant leap for American workplace policies. In a game-changing move that is as much a win for parents as it is for gender equality, Netflix is offering “unlimited” maternity and paternity leave for all new parents.

Of course, if you read the fine print, Netflix’s new policy is not an unlimited free-for-all until a child is in grade school. Rather, the streaming service’s “unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads…allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.” Even with the year restriction, though, Netflix’s policy is perhaps the most robust of any major U.S.-based company.

During the first year of their child’s arrival, any full-time, salaried mother and father from any of Netflix’s office locations will be able to choose for themselves when to leave and return to work, all with full pay. In a blog post announcing this decision, Tawni Cranz, the company’s Chief Talent Officer wrote, “At Netflix, we work hard to foster a “freedom and responsibility” culture that gives our employees context about our business and the freedom to make their own decisions along with the accompanying responsibility … We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances.”

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The tech industry at large has certainly stepped up its game in terms of its maternity and paternity leave policies, recognizing the importance of child rearing (and equal responsibility in the endeavor), but Netflix is breaking new ground for American companies with its largely-unlimited plan for new parents. The United States lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to maternity leave, as the only developed country that does not guarantee paid maternity leave.

Despite the general popularity of Netflix’s latest decision, some skeptics are warning that this lax policy may come with unintended consequences. Despite these changes, the de facto implementation of the unlimited leave may not be quite the same, some experts warn. As Lotte Bailyn of MIT previously told ABC News, “…informal standards are hard to achieve in a culture that doesn’t support time out of the office. Workers at companies with unlimited vacation typically need to get approval from their manager or teams. A better policy than unlimited vacation days would be to mandate a few weeks of vacation and then allow up to a number of more weeks over that.”

Regardless of potential pitfalls, the symbolism behind Netflix’s new policy is perhaps the most important part of the change — and with this company leading the way, perhaps more industries and organizations will prioritize child-rearing among both male and female employees.