Maternity 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