Ernst & Young has increased its paid parental leave policy for new parents to 16 weeks, up from 12 weeks, starting in July.

The new parental leave policy is available to men and women welcoming a child through birth, adoption, surrogacy, foster care or legal guardianship. EY said it will also provide generous benefits for fertility, surrogacy and adoption. On average, nearly 1,200 EY people in the US, half of which are men, take paid parental leave each year.

Upon the arrival of a child, EY's current U.S. policy offers 12 weeks for new birth mothers and six weeks for dads and adoptive parents, subject to eligibility requirements. The new policy increases benefits for all eligible parents to 16 weeks and positions EY as a first mover in equalizing parental leave benefits for men and women among the Big Four, Accenture, IBM and other professional services firms.

EY has been competing with other prominent accounting and consulting firms for talent, particularly among Millennials. Last fall, PricewaterhouseCoopers said it would reimburse junior-level employees up to $1,200 per year to help them pay off their student loan debts (see PwC to reimburse up to $1,200 per year for employees’ student loan debt). Grant Thornton sweetened its flex time policy shortly afterward by allowing the firm’s employees to take time off as needed to meet their individual needs instead of a predetermined set of paid time off days (see Grant Thornton Offers New Flex Time Policy for Employees).

A KPMG spokesman said the firm offers up to 18 weeks of fully paid parental leave for primary caregivers and two weeks of fully paid parental leave for non-primary caregivers. “We provide reimbursement up to $10,000 for adoption and surrogacy expenses,” said KPMG spokesman Ichiro Kawasaki. “We also cover certain expenses relating to infertility with no dollar maximum. Regarding parental transition back to work we offer parental coaching, lactation benefits including shipping milk home when traveling for business, back up child care and professional networks.”

For its part, EY is now offering its employees a more generous parental leave policy as the issue becomes a bigger one around the country. Last week, New York enacted legislation making it the fourth state in the U.S. to mandate paid parental leave for residents. When fully implemented, it will provide up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island also mandate that employers provide some form of paid parental leave.

San Francisco also passed legislation last week requiring employers to give their employees six weeks of fully paid parental leave.

“Creating a work environment where people have greater control over their work and life responsibilities is essential to their personal needs, critical to our business success and is another important way our purpose of building a better working world comes to life," said EY's US chairman and Americas managing partner Stephen R. Howe Jr. in a statement. "Providing our people with equal benefits unmatched in professional services, not only demonstrates our commitment to helping our families succeed, but also empowers all of our parents – men and women - to take advantage of this special bonding time with their child before returning back to work."

EY’s new benefits will also offer financial assistance of up to $25,000 per family for adoption, advanced reproductive technology procedures (ART) including for surrogacy, and medically-necessary egg and sperm freezing. The new policy increases adoption benefits, makes ART and/or surrogacy benefits available to both same sex and opposite sex couples.  These financial assistance benefits will go into effect on January 1, 2017. 

"As the definition of "family" continues to evolve, it was important for EY to take a bold step that supports all our people and their many different "pathways to parenthood," said EY Americas vice chair of talent Carolyn Slaski. "These new benefits will not only continue to attract and retain the best talent, but help us to deliver exceptional client service, while also encouraging our people to live fulfilling lives."

The new benefits have been a key area of focus for EY since the firm announced it was joining the Working Parents Support Coalition at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting last fall. Coalition members committed to implementing a range of parental workplace support practices that ultimately improve outcomes for both families and companies – from longer paid parental leave to providing transition support coaching for mothers and fathers before and after paid parental leave.

One of EY's commitments was to encourage more men to take more of their paternity leave. By increasing leave for men from six weeks up to 16 weeks, EY hopes its men understand EY's serious commitment to enabling them to become the kind of parents they want to be and encourages them to take the time to co-parent with their spouse/significant other in the case of a couple. EY also committed to expanding their Career and Family Transitions program (see below) as well as continuing to focus on flexibility for all.

EY's marketplace research has uncovered the impact that paid parental leave benefits have on employees and businesses. Earlier this year, EY and the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a global survey that explored gender equity issues within executive-level positions. The survey found that the countries with the highest percentages of women in leadership, including in the boardroom and at the executive level, offered fathers 11 times more paternity leave days than those countries at the bottom. Additionally, last year EY's global generational research found that 38 percent of US millennials would move to another country with better paid parental leave benefits and men were more willing to change jobs or give up a promotion, to better manage work and family than women. Findings like these, further demonstrate how paid parental leave policies help recruit and retain top talent.

In addition to these enhanced benefits, EY also provides other support services to help new and expectant parents manage work and caregiving responsibilities. These include:

• Career and Family Transitions Coaching program - Through individual coaching sessions and resource materials, internal coaches help parents plan for transition needs before, during and after parental leave. To date, approximately 700 parents have participated - and almost 20 percent of them are fathers. 

• EY's lactation program – EY provides nursing moms with prenatal breastfeeding webinars, a free hospital-grade breast pump and travel kits for our mothers who have to travel.  Kits ship milk home overnight when traveling for business and/or-related EY events.  EY also provides pre- and post-natal counseling sessions, and help establishing pumping and feeding schedules. These services are also available to the firm's professionals and their spouses or domestic partners. Privacy rooms are available in EY offices for our moms to continue to pump while at work.

• EY Assist - Parents also have access to numerous child care resource and referral benefits including a number of back-up care options for their children with Bright Horizons (BH) and Care.com. Additionally, new parents will now have 24 days of subsidized care with BH's in-home or center-based care in the first year of a child's life. In addition, EY reimburses up to $400 in back-up care expenses for parents who are traveling, use neighborhood care, etc.

• Professional Networks – EY has recently expanded its Working Moms and Dads Professional Networks to be more integrated and inclusive, and its Todays Families Network (TFN) demonstrates that our people grow their families in a variety of ways.  Additionally, EY provides single mothers and fathers with a guide for navigating parenthood called, Single Parents: on your own, not alone.

"We've learned through our Global People Survey that our working parents are our most engaged U.S. employees," said Howe. "We want to continue to support everyone in this group."

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