This Major NYC Restaurant Group Now Offers Paid Parental Leave to All Workers

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name: Union Square Hospitality Group Parental Leave Policy 


New York City, NY

Population: 8.6 Million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017)

Overview: Widely regarded as an industry pioneer and known for igniting industry-wide conversations about wages and working conditions, Danny Meyer, the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), eliminated tips in his restaurants in 2015. Then, in 2017, USHG, which operates some of New York City’s finest restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Blue Smoke, The Modern and many others – became the first major New York restaurant group to offer paid parental leave for its employees.

Progress to date:

In 2015, in an effort to raise wages for his staff and ensure salary security, Danny Meyer implemented a gratuity-free, hospitality-included system by eliminating all tipping at his restaurants and raising prices significantly to compensate.

In 2015, the USHG’s parental leave policy piloted and was put into full effect in 2017.

Program/Policy Initiated: January 1, 2017

Food policy category: Food Services

Program goals: to provide USHG employees the opportunity to balance career with personal responsibilities, enabling them to be more productive while also being better providers and caregivers to their families

How it works: All full time employees, from busboys to cooks to servers to bartenders, with more than one year of employment are offered a total of eight weeks parental leave on the following basis:

  • 100 percent of their base wage (calculated as 40 hours per week for non-exempt, hourly employees) for the first four weeks of parental leave
  • 60 percent of their base wage (calculated as 40 hours per week for non-exempt, hourly employees) for the second four weeks

Workers must provide 90 days notice prior to taking the leave. The benefit is extended to all new parents, including mothers, fathers and committed domestic partners for the birth or adoption of a child, and covers all USHG restaurants with the exception of Meyer’s Shake Shack, which became its own company in 2015.

Why it is important:

By federal law, US businesses are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to full time employees who have worked at the company for more than 50 weeks. Notably, the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t grant paid leave to new mothers. Although paid parental leave is becoming more common in white collar environments, it’s a rarity in the food service industry. A lack of workplace flexibility, combined with few supportive family leave policies, creates an inhospitable environment for working women who want bear and support their children. By introducing this paid leave plan, USHG is creating a hospitable workplace that allows more opportunities for women to grow within the company. The extra financial support allows new mothers to focus on their families during their leave and helps them reintegrate into the workplace once the leave is over. Further, the progressive inclusion of not just mothers but also fathers and committed domestic partners is essential to ensure equity.

Evaluation: Research suggests that parental paid leave provides several benefits for the newborn, parents and businesses. With regard to the health of newborns, one study found that children were 25.3 percent  and 22.2 percent more likely to get their measles and polio vaccines respectively when their mother had access to paid maternity leave. Paid parental leave has also been associated with an increased rate and duration of breastfeeding. Research demonstrates that long-term benefits for newborns being breastfed include fewer sick days, decreased incidence of obesity, reduced risk of allergies and, potentially, reduced risk of autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes. Further, along with providing benefits for the newborn, breastfeeding also provides many protective benefits for the mother, including a decreased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Parental paid leave also increases parental involvement with child-rearing and results in economic benefits for both mothers and businesses. Paid leave has been demonstrated to improve worker retention, because women on paid leave tend to go back to work and stay with the same employer, which saves employers money through reduced turnover costs and means that wages grow at a faster rate for employees. Paid leave has also been associated with increased productivity and heightened employee loyalty and morale.

Learn more:

Point of Contact:

Union Square Hospitality Group

853 Broadway

17th Floor

New York, NY 10003

T: 212.228.3585


Similar practices: On January 1, 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the nation’s most comprehensive paid family leave policy, providing New Yorkers with job-protected paid time off to bond with a newborn, care for a loved one with with a serious health condition or relieve family pressures when a loved one is called to active military service abroad. Through Paid Family Leave, employers may see an increase in their ability to recruit and retain eligible employees, who are guaranteed:

  • paid time off for 8 weeks in 2018, increasing to 12 weeks by 2021;
  • job protection upon return from Paid Family Leave; and
  • continuation of health insurance while on Paid Family Leave.

Click here to learn more.


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