I recently came across a great blog titled “The Trouble With Parental Leave” authored by Robin Hardman of Robin Hardman Communications. She describes a breakout session she recently attended at the annual WorkLife Congress event about paternity leave. She notes that the conversation soon expanded beyond paternity leave issues to parental leave in general. What is the purpose of paternity leave? What is the purpose of any kind of parental leave?
She briefly summarizes the history behind maternity leave when Congress finally agreed that pregnancy should be treated like any other kind of “medical disability” so that many women would be entitled to paid leave through company disability policies.
The blog highlights many of the ongoing challenges with how we manage parental leave in the U.S. and why reform is needed. The following comment by Ms. Hardman sums up the parental leave situation at present: “Since companies can now cover at least some of the cost of paid leave for biological mothers through disability insurance, and since men may pay a higher career cost than women when they take leave, and since adoption still often ranks as a somehow inferior way of acquiring a child, and since it doesn’t look like the federal government is going to step into legislate change anytime soon–well, it looks like we have a long way to go before parental leave in the U.S. is adequate and equitable.”
In 2015, while a necessary evil so as to allow paid maternity leave for many, it is simply ridiculous that pregnancy is considered a “medical disability.” We all deserve a better law that provides a right to parental leave so that we can make the best possible choices as parents about how to care for and bond with our children.
“To Be or Not To Be FMLA”
We are all familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the federal law that allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks away from work, to handle certain family or medical needs. Generally, FMLA regulations apply to an employer if the employer is a private business that employs fifty or more employees in twenty or more weeks in the current or prior calendar year.
Read more of this article by Chloe Pedersen in the Women’s Bar Association Of Illinois Newsletter.
According to the PBS News Hour, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only countries in the world that do not provide any paid time off for new mothers. Under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, new moms who work full time at firms with 50 or more employees are guaranteed 12 unpaid weeks of leave. Unfortunately, even this unpaid leave fails to cover fully 40 percent of American workers.
Consider how the U.S. treats new moms compared to other countries—the Netherlands provides 16 weeks of paid family leave, 52 weeks in Denmark after the birth of a baby, almost 70 weeks in Sweden and 12 weeks in Burundi. In the U.S., only 1 in 8 receive any paid family leave and those benefits come from private employers.
As an example, Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this year that new parents—maternal, paternal or adoptive—will now be eligible for seven additional weeks of paid leave during the first year of the child’s birth or adoption. This means that moms who give birth can take up to 17 paid weeks off and new dads receive 9 weeks. Moreover, new parents do not have to take the leave consecutively, allowing for greater flexibility during the important first year.
When Google extended paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50 percent.
Kudos to companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Google and many others for doing the right thing to support working parents. Working parents should not have to rely upon their employers to do the right thing as paid family leave should be legally required as it is in other countries throughout the world.
Need to know about the law governing family leave? There are federal and state statutes that govern the issue. Learn about them at:
http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/ (Department of Labor)