Posts Tagged ‘ maternity leave ’

Is Paid Family Leave the Path to the White House?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Hillary Clinton Paid Family LeaveCould support for paid family leave be the centerpiece of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016? In The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky argues for just that, saying that Clinton should make “paid family leave a—no; the!—central plank” of her presumed run for the presidency. Tomasky is just offering advice and not reporting that this is actually under consideration, but his argument is persuasive that this issue is a winner.

I can’t agree more. Let’s look at the facts of the situation and then the politics of it:

The fact of the matter is that the United States is last among developed countries—final, end of the list—in legally mandating paid leave, with a grand total of zero weeks. Not a single day of paid family leave is guaranteed by law to new parents. Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by none other than Pres. Bill Clinton, guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers in companies covered by the law. Between the lack of any pay during that period, the measly three-month length, and the relatively high number of companies not covered by the law, this not exactly a generous policy.

Elsewhere in the world, however, Tomasky reports, workers are entitled to large chunks of paid time off to focus on their children: “In France, it’s 100 percent for 16 weeks. Mon dieu, you say, that’s France. But in Germany, which even American conservatives respect a little more in economic terms, it’s 100 percent pay for 14 weeks, and 65 percent for an astonishing 12 to 14 months.”

Our neighbors to the north and south also put us to shame in this department: Canadian moms get 15 weeks of leave at 55% of their pay, plus the couple get an additional 35 weeks at the same pay rate to split between them however they see fit. In Mexico, moms get 12 weeks at 100% of pay. There’s no reason for U.S. parents to be without any paid leave.  (Andrew Sullivan of The Dish posted a sobering chart illustrating just how behind we are.)

Then there’s the politics. Paid family leave has long been a dream of political liberals and a nightmare to business interests, who would be forced to pay employee’s salaries during periods when they are not working. But, as Tomasky points out, the idea of paid leave enjoys wide support among the public, and it’s hard to see women, even those with conservative, pro-business political leanings, opposing it. They and their families stand to benefit greatly from it. “A survey commissioned in 2012 by a pro-leave group found that respondents supported the idea by 63 to 29 percent,” Tomasky writes. “Democrats were of course strongly in favor (85-10), but independents were at a still quite favorable 54-34, and even Republicans weren’t against it—they were evenly split at 47-48.”

For Clinton, who usually plays her politics safely, it would be a bold stance that would at once show her independence—by hewing to the left and taking a risky stance contrary to her usual centrist leanings—while also remaining absolutely true to her pro-family, pro-woman concerns she’s focused on throughout her public career. In short, it’s an issue that is bound to be immensely popular, despite vocal and well-funded detractors.

I would add to Tomasky’s analysis that rallying support for paid family leave has the potential to attract religious conservatives for whom the health and strength of the family is paramount. It’s hard to imagine a policy that would do more for families than one that allows more parents to spend more time with their new babies (or ailing family members) without worrying about losing their income. Too many parents now have to make a choice between spending that crucial time with their newborns or paying the bills, because they cannot do both without paid leave. Family-values conservatives joining liberals and women from across the political spectrum would comprise an impressively powerful coalition to advance this cause.

In addition, it’s important to remember that paid family leave is not just beneficial to women. Men would also be covered by paid paternity-leave policies, allowing them to spend the time being fathers and bonding with their children that they otherwise could not afford to. And the real winners here, of course, are the children who would have more time with their parents at home.

Lastly, I’d argue that the idea should not be confined to a Hillary Clinton candidacy or pigeonholed as her thing, lest it end up buried in partisan combat (which, of course, it might anyway). It is a policy whose time has long past come and I’d invite–expect–any candidate from any party who claims to be pro-family to take up the cause.

Plus: Use our stay-at-home calculator to find out if you can afford to give up your job and stay home with your kids full time.

Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America

Image of Hillary Clinton via Shutterstock.

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Why Does Our Country Make It So Hard to Be a Working Mom?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Whenever a conversation turns to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows new mothers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child, I always think about a friend who gave birth to both of her sons here in the United States.

Had she delivered in her native Ireland, she would’ve gotten paid for 26 weeks, plus 16 more unpaid.

If she’d had her babies when she’d been living in London, she would’ve gotten up to 52 weeks off, up to 39 of them at least partially paid.

And if she’d given birth while living in South Africa, where she and her husband are raising their family now, she would’ve been given at least 16 weeks off, though not necessarily paid. Even if she’d wanted to go back after four or five weeks, as so many moms in our country must, it wouldn’t have been easy. South African law states that “Workers may not go back to work within 6 weeks after the birth unless their doctor or midwife say it is safe.”

My point is, our leave policy is seriously lacking. The countries I listed above aren’t even as generous as it gets (countries like Croatia and Denmark give new moms a full 52 weeks of paid leave), but they illustrate how far we fall short.

This is just one of the many flaws outlined in a comprehensive Huffington Post piece addressing all of the reasons it’s tricky for moms to work outside the home. The post is based on a recent Pew report which found that the percentage of moms of kids under age 18 who would prefer to work full-time outside the home jumped from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to think that of every three stay-at-home moms you know, at least one would rather be working outside the home, if only it were easier to pull off?

And yet this echoes what we found when we surveyed mothers last year for our story on the so-called Mommy Wars. Of the moms who stay at home, 60 percent said they would get a job if there were more options for part-time work or quality and affordable day care.

The HuffPo piece cites research from Child Care Aware America which found that in 31 states, daycare is more expensive than in-state tuition and fees at public colleges. The cost has doubled in the last few decades, and for some families, child care costs can account for nearly 40 percent of their income.

But it’s not like families who use full-time babysitters, or who have their school-age children in before-care or after-care, have it easy by comparison. Every working parent knows the panic that arises when your child wakes up sick in the middle of the night–the simultaneous “I feel so badly that you’re sick” and “Holy crap, I have to go to work tomorrow.” Our society simply hasn’t embraced the concept of a flex work environment. Sure, lots of us (myself included) have understanding bosses, but that’s just great luck. It’s nothing we’re entitled to. And if we’re a middle- or low-wage earner, research shows we’re far less likely to experience that kind of goodwill, and far more likely to feel real repercussions if we stay home from work with a sick child, or duck out for a teacher conference. How is that okay?

There are so many more obstacles in our way, including how tough it can be to breastfeed at work and even how our culture views stay-at-home dads (less than, somehow). When I start to feel it’s all hopeless, I remember organizations like MomsRising (“where moms and the people who love them go to change the world”). Among the issues this inspiring group takes on are flex schedules and maternity and paternity leave (don’t even get me started on our pathetic paternity leave policies and how they stack up against other countries’). It’s a great site to visit if you, like me, wonder if there’s anything we can really do to change the sad state of affairs for working parents. You’ll quickly see that yes, there are actions we can take. We just have to carve out the time.

Image: Work or family symbol via Shutterstock.

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Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care

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The Paternity Leave Struggle

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Time-Warner reportedly offers its employees a generous maternity-leave benefit: 10 weeks paid time off. It’s unusual for an American company to offer any paid family leave, and I hope the women who work for the giant media company deeply appreciate this policy. Men at Time Warner, however, are not so lucky–the benefit does not extend to new fathers (or at least, biological fathers, since it does reportedly apply to adoptive fathers or men who became fathers through surrogacy).

That disparity is being challenged by Josh Levs, a reporter at CNN (which is part of the Time Warner empire), whose third child, a girl, was born in October. He’s filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that the policy is discriminatory. Levs was a keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit, which I attended this past weekend.

I am no lawyer, but it certainly seems like Levs has a strong case and will hopefully prevail. (Time-Warner did not return a phone call from Parents.com seeking comment.)  That dads should be afforded the same opportunities as moms to stay home and care for, and bond with, their babies seems obvious to me–as does the injustice of any policy that applies to one gender and not the other. As Levs put it in his talk, his male colleague could adopt Levs’ baby and get 10 paid weeks of leave; as birth father, Levs needed to return to work after two weeks.

Even if Levs prevails, however, I don’t know that his EEOC case will have an impact beyond his own company, for the simple reason that few workplaces offer any paid leave for moms or dads. I certainly hope that changes and that the U.S. catches up to where much of the rest of the world is on this issue (as illustrated by this depressing chart, which made the social media rounds recently).

But there is another side to this issue, one that doesn’t involve government action or corporate benefit policies. Put simply, we fathers need to take advantage of the benefits already offered to us.

When my first daughter was born, I decided to take several weeks off from work when my wife returned to her job at the end of maternity leave. This paternity leave was unpaid, as my wife’s maternity leave was. When friends and colleagues  heard that I was doing this, I was taken aback by how many had the same reaction: “How great that your company offers this.”

I had news for them: My company was supportive and encouraging, but their policy was not guided by goodwill or generosity. It conformed with the letter of the law, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during the year following a child’s birth or adoption for any new parent, man or woman, who is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. That law generally applies to anyone who has worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months for a company with at least 50 employees in the vicinity.

Yet few new dads take advantage of this paternity leave policy. A 2011 Boston College study found that about 75% of men took a week or less off from work when their child was born. And other reports have shown that only small numbers of eligible dads take paternity leave even when it’s paid.

I know it’s not an easy issue, and there are so many factors inhibiting dads from taking leave. Money is, I am sure, the biggest reason more men don’t take unpaid leave–which is what makes efforts like Levs’ so essential. But even for those who can afford it, or are lucky enough to work for the rare company that does offer paid leave, it can sometimes be hard to decide to take this time off. We men are so conditioned to work and strive to get ahead that it can be scary to step away from the office for an extended period. Will we be passed over for promotions or interesting projects? Will our bosses or colleagues think differently about us or believe we’re not committed to our jobs? Will we be at the top of the list when layoffs come?

Nevertheless, I hope to see more dads taking more of the time they are eligible for. It’s may not be what Josh Levs is fighting for–paid leave on par with his colleagues who are moms–but it’s not nothing, either. Until more of us use what’s available to us, it’s hard to argue for more. “You can’t have family values without valuing fathers,” Levs said in his talk at the conference. And, I would add, our society won’t truly start valuing fathers–and change its perception of men and work–until we  fathers make it that change happen.

See more about the Dad 2.0 Summit, or use our calculator to see if you can afford to be a stay-at-home parent. And for something on the lighter side, watch this video in our Lords of the Playground series:

Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown
Lords of the Playground: The Countdown

 

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Working Mom Sues for Lack of Maternity Leave

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Woman in deliveryMaternity leave. It’s on the brain of every working mom—and even on the minds of those who don’t have kids, but are looking down the road in their careers. Even though national law mandates time off, the question lingers: How will the leave actually impact a woman’s position in the workplace? Unfortunately for some women, like Mary Vandergrift, the answer was not a pleasant one.

A former edit of Patch.com, Vandergrift filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against her former employer, accusing Patch of failing to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act when her boss asked her to work just hours after she gave birth to her daughter in 2011. A website focused on hyper-local news, Patch is owned by internet bigwig AOL. Vandergrift was hired in December 2010 as a full-time freelance journalist for the Golden Valley branch of the site, reporting from Minnesota.

Vandergrift claims that four or five hours after the delivery of her daughter, her boss emailed her to congratulate her and to ask her to work from her hospital bed—a request thather boss had previously made on numerous occasions when Vandergrift was hospitalized due to Crohn’s disease. Although she was set to be on a six-week parenting leave, Vandergrift felt pressure to return to work. Vandergrift also claims that she was previously denied a promotion due to her disability and pregnancy.

In the U.S. federal law dictates that mothers receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for a newborn or newly adopted children. Supplemental laws for time off after baby vary state-to-state and policies vary from employer-to-employer. Even developing countries like Rwanda offer a more generous policy than that.

The United States, a country whose leaders constantly emphasize the need to value ‘the family,’ clearly does not value what it takes to make that family if you look at its laws. Australia, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey and the U.K. are just some of the countries that offer a period of paid maternity leave.

Yet, before we battle for more generous laws, employers must abide by the ones we do have in place. If AOL and Patch did, in fact, request Vandergrift to work while on maternity leave, they certainly violated the law. But more importantly, they embodied an ideal that is becoming standard in America: nothing is more important than work. Your family is no longer most important. Your health is not most important. That is what these alleged actions (if they took place as Vandergift claims) tell America’s workforce.

We need to consider where our priorities lie even without instances like this to remind us.

 

Image: Childbirth, breathing exercises via Shutterstock by Leah-Anne Thompson

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