U.S. one of only two nations without guaranteed paid maternity leave
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced on Wednesday a proposal to double the time for paid maternity leave and other family friendly incentives that will attract and keep top-performing women.
"Some of the initiatives aimed at retaining women include doubling paid maternity leave to 12 weeks, longer child-care hours, an updated co-location policy for dual military couples and opportunities like the career intermission program, which allows sailors to take time off to pursue educational or other personal goals," USA Today reported.
These proposed incentives stand in stark contrast with the parental leave options offered by most organizations and companies in the United States. Recently released reports show that the U.S. and Papua New Guinea are the only two nations to not guarantee paid maternity leave for working mothers, while Hungary and Slovakia give 160 or more paid weeks of leave, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Among nations in the OECD, the U.S. ranks lowest with zero weeks of paid leave guaranteed for working mothers. Every other nation-member of the OECD, as well as Latvia and Lithuania, which are not members, guarantees at least 12 weeks of paid leave.
Slovakia offers the most paid parental leave, with 164 weeks guaranteed, according to the OECD.
For working women in the U.S., potential repercussions like that of being moved in the company or let go, are serious worries when requesting maternity leave, Bloomberg reported.
John Oliver, host of "Last Week Tonight," spoke on Mother's Day about how lack of guaranteed maternity leave can cause problems for American families. He delved into the effects it can have on working women's careers, well-being and families.
"In America, there is nothing we wouldn't do for moms — apart from one major thing," which is paid maternity leave, Oliver said in the clip that attracted a lot of attention online.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually in the U.S. for those who have worked for their employer at least 12 months, including at least 1,250 hours during the most recent 12 months.
FMLA applies to workers at all government agencies and schools nationwide, as well as private companies with 50 or more employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In January, legislation was introduced in Congress that would give federal workers six weeks of paid leave related to the birth or adoption of a child, the Washington Post reported.
"This bill will go a long way toward creating a more family friendly workplace, which is needed by America's workers. In addition to reducing turnover, paid parental leave can lead to increased productivity, better morale and reduced absenteeism," said National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley, in a statement.
Unpaid maternity leave will likely become more of a workplace issue since more women are becoming the breadwinners for their families. Forty percent of all households in the U.S. with children under the age of 18 have mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to the Pew Research Center.
Paternity leave for fathers is also something parents are fighting for. Advocates say that allowing men to take leave could not only help working mothers with the task of taking care of a new child, but also change the stigmatizing of women's availability and ability in the work environment.
Paid leave for parents when children are born is not the only leave not guaranteed in the U.S. Parents are also not guaranteed any paid vacation days, which are often the days parents use when unable to obtain enough parental leave, or care for sick children.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, every developed nation besides the U.S. provides anywhere from 10 to 30 paid vacation days, with many also offering paid holidays.
Vox reported that the center also found that the U.S. is one of 22 developed countries with no guarantee of paid sick days, either.
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Paid family leave should be for everyone
By Eileen Appelbaum and Gayle Goldin May 14, 2015
LAST YEAR, the country’s smallest state took a step towards helping the United States address a hole in its workplace policies: lack of paid family leave. Since January 2014, employees in Rhode Island have been able to take up to four weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn, newly adopted, or foster child, or to care for an ill loved one through the state’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance. TCI is fully funded by workers and applies to all employees regardless of the size of their workplace. Employers cannot fire or retaliate against employees who take the time off.
The United States lags far behind other advanced industrial nations in providing paid leave to new mothers and fathers. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents employed by certain kinds of businesses. Even among those covered, most can’t afford unpaid time off. In the more than 20 years since passage of the FMLA, only a tiny fraction of new fathers have used it. That’s because going without a father’s income — for even a few weeks — is a financial hardship for most families. Moreover, being a good father has traditionally meant providing for your family by working.
By the time FMLA became federal law in 1993, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, along with other states, already had state laws guaranteeing unpaid leave. Now Rhode Island, California, and New Jersey have broken new ground with paid family leave laws, and legislatures in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, and Hawaii are all considering similar programs. Steps in the right direction are also occurring on the municipal level, with leadership from mayors and city councilors — like those in Boston — who are supporting paid parental leave for municipal employees. In fact, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey just said she plans to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to her employees.
It is not surprising that states and municipalities are taking action. Research shows paternity leave is not just good for fathers; it’s good for all of us. Studies find that fathers who take longer leaves have more involvement in the lives of their children, have more confidence as parents, and spend more hours with their children during workdays. Moreover, research has shown that longer paid paternity leave increases fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children and the time they spend caring for them. Greater gender equity in the home enhances mothers’ attachment to the workforce and success on the job.
While paid leave has increased the number of men in California and New Jersey taking time to care for a new baby, first-year data from Rhode Island are particularly encouraging. Paid, job-protected time off appears to encourage more men to take paternity leave. Nationally, just one man took leave following the birth of a child for every nine women who took such leave. By contrast, in Rhode Island, 901 men and 1,946 women went out on bonding leave in 2014 – a ratio of one father for every two mothers who took leave.
The burden on employers is less than you might think. Only a small fraction of the workforce has a baby in any given year. In Rhode Island, just 0.7 percent of the state’s private sector workforce took a bonding leave in 2014. Indeed, overall TCI usage for all purposes was just 0.92 percent of the workforce.
Barely any employers have had even one employee take leave. According to unpublished data from Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training, just 5 percent of the state’s 32,200 private sector employers had an employee who took a caregiver leave for any reason in 2014. A small number of larger employers had multiple caregiving leaves, but even in these cases, they were taken only by between 1 and 4 percent of the workforce.
In addition, research shows paid family leave reduces employee turnover, which provides a cost savings to employers compared with the expense of recruiting, training, and getting a new employee up to speed on a job.
As the state senator who championed Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance and an economist who studies the impact of paid leave, we know that the insurance programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island help families and our overall economy. Nearly 40 million people live in these three states, yet millions more across our country would benefit from paid family leave. Ensuring that workers who need to care for their loved ones can take time without losing their income is a basic guarantee that everyone deserves.
Eileen Appelbaum is senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and coauthor of “Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of Work-Family Policy.” Gayle Goldin is a Rhode Island state senator who in 2013 championed passage of Temporary Caregiver Insurance.