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Ford Improves Paid Parental Leave, Zooming Past Other Automakers

Ford instituted sweeping changes to its parental leave policies on Thursday, placing the company ahead of its U.S. automaker competitors when it comes to paid family leave.

The Fortune 500 company will now offer its salaried employees eight weeks of fully paid leave after the arrival of a child, up from two weeks. The leave is available to birth mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. In addition, birth mothers can take six to eight weeks of disability leave at full pay for up to 16 weeks total.

In an especially innovative step, when new parents come back to work, they will be able to work part-time—generally between two to three days a week—at full pay for one month as they adjust to being back in the workplace. Employees can then work out additional flexible work arrangements with adjusted pay if they need.

“What was really important to us was that the leave provision applied to both men and women,” Ford chief human resources officer Kiersten Robinson told Fortune. “The pattern that we saw was that women were taking advantage of the previous policy, but not many men were taking it. That set a tone to some of our female employees that maybe it’s not OK. We wanted to make sure that everyone felt as though this was a priority and they had the flexibility to take this time with their new family.”

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New benefits are also available to foster parents: employees fostering children on a long-term basis can take two weeks of paid leave when a child enters their home. Foster parents can only take advantage of that benefit twice during their employment at Ford.

While Ford’s new benefits aren’t exactly on par with, say, the tech industry, where new parents may get three to six months—or more—of paid leave, they do raise the bar for the U.S. auto industry.

Take Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which offers eight weeks of paid time off, but only to birth mothers, along with the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid leave for all employees. At General Motors, paid leave options are similar to what Ford provided before it unveiled these new policies: two weeks of paid leave available to all new parents, as well as 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. Birth mothers working for GM can also apply for additional dependent care leave.

Ford’s new policies only apply to its salaried employees—not hourly workers at its factories. (A disparity that also plagues other industries.) But some of these policies, especially the one month “ramp-up” period back to work, are under consideration for the next time the automaker negotiates its collective bargaining agreement with the United Automobile Workers union, said Julie Lavender, Ford’s director of personnel relations and employee policies. Ford’s executives who worked on this policy are sitting down with their counterparts in labor affairs in the coming weeks to discuss how they might adapt the policy to hourly workers, an arrangement that would add to union members’ medical leave time off, Lavender said.

The latest changes follow Ford’s first improvements to its paid family leave policy a year ago, when the company implemented the two weeks of new parent leave available to all parents. Before 2017, Ford only provided maternity leave to birth mothers through disability leave and required fathers or adoptive parents to use their vacation days.

The company decided on these policies after convening a maternity task force group of employees who shared what benefits they would have liked to have had when they had children.

With these changes, Ford also made its sick leave policy more flexible. The company used to offer 10 days of sick leave, five of which were eligible to be used for personal reasons, whether caring for an ill parent or child or personal appointments. All 10 of those days will now be available to employees for any of those reasons with no restrictions.

Ford expects its employees will take advantage of its new benefits—and hopes that mothers, fathers, and all kinds of parents will do so equally.

“We’ve done a lot of benchmarking, and certainly within the automotive sector, with these policies we will be one of the leaders in setting the tone,” Robinson said.