Employee Appreciation Day is today. And while I’m sure moms and dads who get to kick off early today will be grateful, there’s a lot more appreciating that could be done. Like maybe the option of improved maternity and paternity care benefits? Our nation’s parental leave benefits are appalling.
In fact, the U.S. maternity leave benefits are some of the very worst in the world. Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which passed after 10 years of legislative wrangling, new parents are granted “12 weeks’ unpaid time off to care for a newborn or adopted child, with the guarantee of the same job when they return.” This only applies to employees of companies with more than 50 employees. Small business employee, you’re on your own. And though men are entitled to leave when they work for bigger companies, most do not either for financial reasons– remember, it’s unpaid– or because of the stigma associated with it.
So while mums in the U.K. have the option of a full year off to care for their babies, and the European Union is working on legislation to give both parents a full 20 weeks PAID leave, pregnant women here often have to do everything they can to cobble together a livable arrangement, including working right up to the bloody show. Of course some women– myself included– are lucky enough to have nice employers who, on their own initiative, come up with flexible schedules for new parents. And there are ways maternity leave can be paid via some combo of saved vacation and sick days and disability payments. But this means mom has had no vacation for how long?
Matt Putaseri wrote in his great babble piece about taking paternity leave, “According to a Harvard University report, of 173 industrialized countries studied, 169 guarantee paid maternal leave for women. The U.S. — along with Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland — is among the four nations that offer nothing. Moreover, 66 of 173 countries guarantee paid paternal leave; the U.S. does not…. Only thirteen percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternal leave to allow men to spend time at home with a new baby, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Even when the opportunity exists only fifty-eight percent of men opt to use paid paternal leave available to them.”
I think our country would be better off if both parents were more supported to spend time nurturing their babies and being able to re-enter the workforce. We should not have to make a kind of Sophie’s choice between the corporate American work week and parenthood. We’re all meant to raise children and work. As long as it’s organized in a humane way, it’s entirely possible.
What’s your maternity or paternity leave package? Are you worried about what you’ll do when the baby is born? How much time will you take off work and at what cost?