What do Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United State have in common? According to Forbes, they are the only three countries that do not offer any form of mandatory paid leave to new mothers.
Think Progress reports, “American women are offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which exempts companies with fewer than 50 paid employees, but in 2011, only 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 percent of public workers reported that they had access to paid maternity leave through their employer. And for first-time mothers, only about half can take paid leave when they give birth. At the same time that working women in the U.S. lack a benefit widely available across the globe, almost 50 percent of families had two working parents in 2010, and 26 percent of households were headed by single parents. Without guaranteed paid maternity leave, many of these working women face significant financial hardship by having to choose between their paycheck and their families.”
Some would argue that access to leave, even unpaid, is still a generous benefit. But what isn’t directly spelled out is how to get to that leave in the first place. For many companies, FLMA, much like short term disability, cannot be accessed until all other forms of paid leave have been exhausted. That means first using all vacation time, any potential paid time off, and sick leave.
That scenario means not only are you embarking on unpaid leave, but should you need any other time off for any reason, that will need to be unpaid as well — time off for a sick child, even taking your new baby in for the myriad of well-baby exams that clutter the first year of his or her life. A parent who takes FMLA time not only suffers economically when taking it but will feel the repercussions of that leave financially for the remainder of that calendar year, which can be huge for births earlier in the year.
If the U.S. really wants to lead the world as a economic powerhouse, it needs to reexamine its laws that make employment and parenthood mutually exclusive.
Read more: maternity leave
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