The Push for Paid Maternity Leave

By Kim Amato / Founder & Executive Director / Baby’s Bounty

While there is a federal law offering paid maternity leave, many women in the United States do not enjoy access to any paid job protection after the birth of a new baby.

Most people probably don’t realize it, but the United States is behind every other developed nation regarding paid-time-off. Most all offer some benefits to postpartum mothers, and many of them offer quite a bit according to

Our nation’s failure to offer paid parental leave makes it more difficult to take time off since the lack of affordable infant care that meets basic health and safety standards is not readily available, especially in low-income areas. Good quality childcare can positively influence a child’s development, but for most families, the cost is simply out of reach because the average price of daycare is $9,600 a year.

Since most Americans have no paid leave for prenatal care, no paid leave when baby arrives, and no paid leave to bond with and care for a new baby, 25 percent of women are forced to return to work as early as two weeks after giving birth, while men return in 10 days or less. Parental leave policies in the United States are among the worst in the world as there is no guaranteed paid leave at all to new parents. And federal lawmakers haven’t taken any new action to help new parents in ten years! There are only two federal laws to help new and expecting parents.

The first, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1978, makes it illegal for employers to fire, refuse to hire, or deny a woman a promotion because of a pregnancy. This Act does not just cover pregnant female employees and applicants. It also covers female employees and applicants who are suffering from a condition “relating to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.”

Additional conditions may also be covered by the Act. Under this language, the Act expressly covers:

  • lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child
  • mastitis or other lactation-related medical condition
  • gestational diabetes
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • preeclampsia
  • postpartum depression
  • loss or end of pregnancy and recovery from loss or end of pregnancy

The second, the Family & Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, provides millions of workers with unpaid, job-protected leave after a baby’s birth or when illness strikes. But it only covers about 60 percent of workers.

The United States mandates zero paid weeks. Millions of Americans cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides. Maternal disability, if offered, is often capped at six weeks, or eight weeks for women who give birth via cesarean. The amount paid is often only a partial amount of a person’s salary. Unpaid leave is simply not a financial option for many families.

For new parents, spending time with a newborn is critical to getting to know their babies.

Decades of research by the National Partnership of Women & Families, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, reveals that extended parental leave can provide long-term benefits that improve a child’s brain development, social development and overall well-being. California leads the country with an A+ rating. Allowing six weeks of paid maternity leave while Nevada is one of 20 states with a grade of F, allowing no paid maternity leave.

Nevada, only this year, mandated that employers offer any paid time off, and they set the minimum at 40 hours per year. Culinary Union members, for example, can take up to 18 months of unpaid leave for maternity, placement of child and child bonding. Their seniority, shift and wages are protected during that time.

Paid Maternity LeaveParental leave policies aren’t universally abhorred in Nevada. According to the employee handbook for Zappos, a woman who’s worked there for at least one year qualifies for four weeks of pre-partum care if medically necessary, 10 weeks of post-partum paid leave and six weeks of parental leave — all paid out at 100 percent of their salary. The online shoe-seller also operates two unique programs. The first is a “leave share” program that allows mothers or fathers to share that six-week parental leave with a spouse or domestic partner who doesn’t have paid leave through their own employer. The second is a “ramp back” program that gives primary caregivers the option to “ease back into work” with eight weeks of part-time work. Women and men are working longer and longer hours with fewer benefits. The typical American couple works close to 90 hours a week. With each partner putting in 40 or more hours on the job. But workplace policies have not kept pace, remaining stagnant while the needs and realities of families’ lives have changed.

Paid Maternity Leave

Women take great pride in their work and tend to work late into their pregnancies. They may feel societal or professional pressure to prove they are serious about their jobs.  40 percent return to work when baby is only three months old. The United States can, and must, do better to support new parents.

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