During Saturday’s March for Science, an estimated 50,000 people will descend on Washington’s National Mall to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.” Scores of protesters will support the mission in satellite marches in 605 cities across the U.S. and the world — from Fresno, California to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.
I’ll be joining the cause from New York City, and I’m relieved the march will take place on a Saturday — when it’s easy for those of us with regular office jobs to participate.
But social action, which has gained renewed energy since November’s divisive election, doesn’t always fit neatly into the space left blank by our 9 to 5s (especially since that space is shrinking as we’re working longer and longer hours). It’s hard to take part in something like last month’s A Day Without a Woman when it means taking an entire day away from the office — and potentially leaving your co-workers in the lurch. And how do you decide between being a responsible employee and a responsible citizen?
A crop of socially conscious employers is addressing this dilemma by offering a range of new “social justice benefits.” According to an article in Fast Company, it’s not unusual for companies of this ilk to offer paid time off for volunteering but, given our heated political climate, that doesn’t always seem to be enough. Large employers like Comcast have started offering PTO for protesting, so long as your department can cover your workload. And other companies are getting even more creative: Vermont-based Burton Snowboards covered travel expenses to the Women’s March, while valet parking app company Luxe matched employee contributions to the ACLU. Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia will post bail for employees arrested while peacefully protesting environmental issues, and the CEO of Helpr, an app that provides screened babysitters on demand, gives employees unlimited PTO for voting — a perk that could prove helpful across the country, since, unlike France, we don’t hold our presidential elections on Sundays.
Fast Company predicts these benefits will become increasingly common, and that seems likely since we’re seeing a growing array of out-of-the-box perks, from “pawternity” leave for new pet owners to the employer-sponsored 529 plan now up for debate in Congress.
Still, I’d bet a lot of companies won’t offer PTO for protesting anytime soon. If yours is one of them and you’re still gung-ho about social action that takes place during work hours, your best bet is to try negotiating a flexible work schedule. Or, of course, look for a company whose values align with yours.