Paid Family Leave: Let’s Keep Talking About It.

This post orignally appeared in Greeley Moms in November 2014. But I felt it was important to share this again as the subject of parental leave has been coming up in the news more recently.

shutterstock_74577679Photo from shutterstock.com

If you are a mother who works outside the home then you are probably all too familiar with maternity leave and the added stress it can create.

I know I am.

It’s a fine art really; calculating the amount of personal and sick time accrued each pay period (in addition to what is already banked) and then multiplying that times nine months to see if just maybe 12 weeks, or even 10, could be attainable at a full paycheck. Then re-calculating if any other time off is taken or there is an unplanned sick day.

What if you’ve started a new job or haven’t had enough time to accrue more leave since having your first child? More calculating. More stress.

When we started planning our family and I looked into maternity leave I realized just how naïve I was to the whole process. Admittedly, I did not realize the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was unpaid and only guaranteed me my job back after 12 weeks.

I certainly had a deer-in-headlights look on my face when I realized I might not have enough vacation and sick time accrued to take a full 12 weeks with my child, even after having been with my company for over 4 years. Thankfully, I was able to make it to at least 10 weeks.

After starting with a new company at the beginning of 2014, I also learned about the advantage of paying into short-term disability to help bridge the gap of not having enough vacation and sick time built up before having another baby. While my vacation and sick time is generous, there is no way I will accrue enough leave to be able to get a full paycheck when that time comes.

I am thankful for my options to make a 10 – or 12-week maternity leave possible because there are many companies who don’t offer much in the way of earned time off or don’t offer short-term disability. And, truthfully, a six- to eight-week (as required by most doctors after giving birth or having a c-section) maternity leave is not nearly enough time to bond with a newborn and gain the emotional strength it takes to leave that baby.

However, many working mothers are not so fortunate.

The United States lags behind other countries when it comes to maternity leave, paternity leave, flexible scheduling, and assorted other family-friendly policies.

According to the International Labor Organization, there are at least 178 countries offering guaranteed paid leave for working mothers, with 50 countries offering wage benefits to working fathers. Germany, Malta, and New Zealand offer 14 weeks at 100% pay. Croatia, Denmark, and Serbia offer 52 weeks at 100% pay, to name a few. The list is long and the variations are many but it goes to show how many countries offer paid benefits to new parents.

There have been some moves in a positive direction in the United States. For instance, California enacted paid family leave in 2002 in which parents are provided income replacement for up to six weeks at 55% of their weekly wages if they choose to pay into the State Disability Insurance program. Washington, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and several other states have followed in California’s footsteps and offer paid family leave for birth, adoption, and caring for ill family members.

Working Mother Magazine comes out every year with a Top 100 list of best companies for working mothers and in the 2011 list, every company offered paid maternity leave, 76 percent offered paid paternity leave, and 79 percent offered paid adoption leave, in addition to many other family benefits. Working Mother has even started a petition to get paid family leave universally available to U.S. workers by 2015.

On June 23, 2014, working families took center stage at the first White House Summit on Working Families. The summit was filled with businesses, economists, labor leaders, policymakers, advocates, and ordinary citizens discussing the topics of workplace flexibility, paid family leave, daycare costs, and wages. I was pleasantly surprised by this and to know that working parents are on the minds of some of elected officials. It gives me hope that there will begin to be some recognition of the basic needs of maternity leave and parenthood.

Generous maternity leave and other parental benefits aren’t just a luxury for parents; companies could benefit financially from employees using state family leave versus any employer-aided vacation, sick time, or disability. Not to mention the increase in overall employee loyalty and happiness.

I would gladly pay cents on the dollar into a state family leave program if it meant I could alleviate the stress of figuring out the perfect combination of leave and short-term disability. Family planning comes with its own inherent stresses, figuring out how to take time away from your job to fully enjoy a new addition shouldn’t be one of them.

As a working mother, I sincerely hope that paid family leave will continue to make its way to the forefront of the minds of our leaders.

Economically and socially, it is important for the United States to value talented parents in the workforce and I believe it is imperative to provide them benefits to properly care for the little people sending them off to that workforce each day.

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