Business

Unique: Levi’s introduces paid circle of relatives go away for staff

Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh learned firsthand the importance of paid family and medical leave this past fall. His wife’s father was in intensive care and her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor; she spent much of her time traveling to China to take care of them. Bergh stayed at home in California with their 11-year-old daughter.

“I’m a CEO—I’ve got a massive support system around me. And it was challenging to juggle it all,” he says. “It really brought home how hard it is when one of our employees is dealing with this.”

The crisis in Bergh’s own family came just as Levi Strauss decided to introduce a paid family leave benefit—eight weeks off to care for a family member with a serious illness—to its corporate employees and benefits-eligible retail workers. The company began providing eight weeks of leave for corporate and retail new parents in 2016. Its new paid family leave policy is effective today.

The benefit is industry-leading for retail, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, which worked with the company to develop the policy. “Folks who are employed in retail are unlikely to have basic benefits, let alone paid family and medical leave,” says National Partnership president Debra Ness. “The retail industry tends to lag behind other industries.”

Levi Strauss’s leave will be available to corporate employees and retail staff who work at least 30 hours a week for the 167-year-old denim brand. Employees can take the leave in chunks that are at minimum two weeks to care for an ill spouse, domestic partner, parent or stepparent, or 18-and-under child or stepchild.

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The $5.5 billion retailer was inspired to introduce the benefit after hearing from employees who are part of the “sandwich generation”—those in midlife caring for both young children and aging parents.

“I fundamentally believe that if people feel that the company is aligned with their needs and values, it will drive employee engagement, employee loyalty, and productivity. Can I prove it in an A/B test? I don’t know,” Bergh says, “but I believe in my heart this is a differentiator.” He also hopes the policy will serve to recruit talent in the competitive labor market in San Francisco, where Levi Strauss is headquartered.

In the nearly four years since the brand introduced its paid parental leave policy, Bergh says men and women at the company have both taken advantage of the offering, and he expects that will continue for the family leave benefit. He reflects on his own experience when his youngest daughter was born, when he was an executive at Procter & Gamble. “I spent the night on the floor in the hospital, got back at 6 a.m., went home, showered, changed, and went back to work. I repeated that a couple nights in a row,” he says. “Things would have been very, very different if I’d had that flexibility.”

Other retailers with notable family leave policies include Nike and Patagonia, according to the National Partnership.

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