Carly O’Loughlin, Cailey Muldoon, Caroline Leonard
May 10, 2019
Saint Mary’s College
Maternity leave refers to the period of time that a new mother takes off from work following the birth of her baby (American Pregnancy Association). Policies are set in place in order to give a mother adequate time to bond with her child and not have to deal with the stress of working a job. Some countries have paid maternity leave policies, while other countries do not pay their employees who go on maternity leave. For example, the United States does not currently have a paid leave policy. Being the only developed country to not have a paid maternity leave policy, the US should work towards changes in laws that allow mothers time to fully recover physically and emotionally after childbirth and allow children to receive sufficient time with their mothers.
The current federal law in our country concerning maternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1993. It grants workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy, adoption, foster care, or personal or family illness. It is imperative to note that this law covers a large range of circumstances that would result in a need for work leave. Serious health issues preventing someone from working or needing to care for a critically ill spouse or parent are eligible reasons outside of motherhood that would qualify for leave. This leave is also job-protected, meaning that the employee cannot get fired for being on leave. It also requires that employers covered by the law maintain health benefits for employees just as if they were working. All public agencies must follow FMLA, which includes state, federal, and local employers, as well as schools. In regard to private agencies, FMLA applies only to those who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks for either the previous or current year. Within agencies that qualify, employees must also follow certain criteria in order to be covered by the law. The employee must have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months. The agency must also have at least 50 employees (FindLaw).
Though the U.S. is not required under federal law that have paid maternity leave policies, there are some states that have such policies. California has a Paid Family Leave (PFL) program that allows 6 weeks of partially paid leave to bond with a child entering the family through childbirth, adoption, or foster care. This program also covers employees who need to take care of a seriously ill family member. This program does not provide job protection, but jobs may be protected under FMLA (Employment Development Department).
Currently the United States is the only developed country that does not have federal laws mandating paid maternity leave. There are only seven other countries in the world that have a policy similar to the U.S. Some of these countries are New Guinea, Suriname, and some small South Pacific islands. It is fascinating that the United States, a high-income country, has laws on such a critical issue that can be compared to those of small, developing countries. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is a group of industrialized countries, the United States has the least generous maternity leave policy (Toh, 2018). Other developed countries have maternity leave laws that offer enough time for the new mother to heal both physically and emotionally. Bulgaria’s maternity leave policy allows for 59 weeks of leave, and approximately 46 weeks are paid. This is arguably one of the best policies offered around the world, but many other countries have exceptional laws as well. For example, in the U.K. 52 weeks of leave is permitted for a new mother. The mother is not required to take all 52 weeks of leave, but they are legally required to take off two weeks after the birth (Gov.UK). During these 52 weeks the new mother can expect to be paid 90% of her weekly paycheck for the first 39 weeks. Both Portugal and Mexico have lower rankings when it comes to their policies. However, they both offer twelve weeks of paid leave (Toh, 2018). While this might not compare well to countries like Bulgaria, it does look much better than the current policies in the United States.
The United States’ current policies on maternity leave do not allow proper time for a mother to recover from giving birth. It also does not allow time for a mother to bond with her child. The Family and Medical Leave Act has made immense strides in allowing women time off and the security of still having a job after they give birth. However, this policy does not go far enough to promote women’s health and well-being. These laws are clearly influenced by our country’s incredibly competitive, capitalist economy. It is not surprising that maternity leave policies do not offer pay or much time off since our society is driven by profits and competition. However, with these laws, women are being pushed aside in order to favor big business. Not only do these laws not allow enough time for women to recover, but it also is not possible for many women to go twelve weeks without pay. It is incredibly expensive to raise children, which means paychecks become even more critical during this time. However, as a woman suddenly has this new financial burden, her means of financial support are taken away as she attempts to adjust to her new life. Not all companies refuse to pay new mothers, but only an approximate 40% of companies do offer paid maternity leave (Ingraham, 2018). This means women are often working too late into their pregnancy and returning to work far too early. Both the mother and the child lose out on critical time of bonding because of this factor. Not only does the mother need to recover, but the newborn also requires more attention and care at this time. Pulling the mother away from the child does not help to promote proper child development. In the end, childbearing is not simply a desire but instead a necessity for our society to survive and continue thriving. The United States’ current policies regarding maternity leave do not promote childbirth, and they put women at a disadvantage. Men do not have to worry about the struggle of choosing a career or a family. Due to our society’s gender norms, it is not seen as poor parenting if a man is dedicated to his career. In contrast, women are forced to face constant judgment over whether or not they have chosen a family or a career. This should not have to be a question of one or the other. The current federal maternity leave policy needs to be changed in order to allow women to have more time off while still receiving payment.
Concerning organizations that support the cause of achieving paid maternity leave in the United States, PL+US (Paid Leave US) and MomsRising both contribute immensely. PL+US is a non-profit corporation that focuses on gaining high-quality paid family leave for everyone. In hopes to achieve this by 2022, PL+US thrives on holding and contributing to campaigns. They have a three-pronged strategy that attempts to transform workplaces, public policy, and culture so that everyone can give and receive family care when it matters most. MomsRising works for “paid family leave, earned sick days, affordable childcare, and for an end to the wage and hiring discrimination which penalizes so many mothers” (MomsRising). As a multicultural organization, MomsRising is a grassroots organization, meaning that they use action from the local level in order to promote and effect change in the local, regional, national, or international levels. Seeking to improve public policy and changes to the national dialogue, this organization combines several factors to advocate for, rather than just focusing on one aspect of maternity leave.
In bringing awareness to Saint Mary’s College it is important to first note the policies that are already set in place. Saint Mary’s employees who have a newly adopted child or a newborn child are eligible for 6 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of benefits. However, if both parents are employed by the college, only one is permitted to take the leave. In addition to this policy, the employee is allowed to use vacation or other personal time to continue their paid leave up through the 12 week period. Saint Mary’s emphasizes that “the purpose of this paid leave time… is to retain valued and talented employees” (Employee Handbook). The college presses that employees are expected to return to full-time job responsibilities at the conclusion of the 12 week leave. Concerning individuals that do not comply and do not return to work within a year, they have to repay the amount paid during the 6 week leave period. In considering the present policies, in order to bring awareness on maternity leave to Saint Mary’s, students, faculty, and staff could promote more education via clubs or lectures to educate people on how the United States is failing to give new mothers proper parental leave compared to other countries. In addition, these clubs could join together and meet with local government officials on ways to promote change, possibly by planning and partaking in rallies or walks within the South Bend community.
Overall, maternity leave is an important issue within the United States as well as the entire world. As the United States is one of the only developed countries to not guarantee paid maternity leave, it demonstrates the issues within society that include several gender inequality aspects. It is important to provide education on the inclusive factors of this issue and look to other countries as guidelines for what to fight for. In providing education and experience from other countries, the United States could change their maternity leave policy to better promote their support of mothers, and parents in general, in society.
About MomsRising. (2018, December 11). Retrieved from https://www.momsrising.org/about
About. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://paidleave.us/about
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Ingraham, C. (2018, February 05). The world's richest countries guarantee mothers more than a year of paid maternity leave. The U.S. guarantees them nothing. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/...s-them-nothing
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