I wrote about this issue in 2008, when the New Jersey State Senate approved legislation that would grant employees paid maternity or dependent-care leave. Since then, not only has the situation not gotten better, it’s actually gotten worse: In a 2005 survey of 168 developed countries, the United States was one of just five that didn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Yesterday, a Human Rights Watch report; showed that, out of 190 countries studied, just three offered no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.
“Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this,” Janet Walsh, deputy women’s rights director of Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, told Reuters. “Countries that have these programs show productivity gains, reduced turnover costs, and health care savings. We can’t afford not to guarantee paid family leave under law — especially in these tough economic times.”
According to the report, “Failing its families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the US,” of he 190 countries studied, 178 have national laws that guarantee paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. Nine countries were unclear on their parental leave policies, but more than 100 countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave for new mothers, the members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation — which includes Bangladesh, Australia, China, Russia and 30 other countries, but not the United States — provide on average of 18 weeks of paid maternity leave (an average of 13 weeks at full pay), with additional paid parental leave available.
And maternity leave isn’t the only place where we fall behind. According to the report, U.S. companies also lack accommodations for breast-feeding mothers, though there’s hope that’s about to change: The new health care law requires employers to provide reasonable breaks and accommodations for breastfeeding mothers who need to pump at work, and Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin in January released a call to action to support breastfeeding.”
We’re ahead of the curve in one big thing, but it’s not a good one: workplace discrimination against new parents is worse in the U.S. than in other countries, the report found. Women experience the so-called Motherhood penalty, in which working moms get less pay and less respect in the office, and working dads are struggling to “legitimize being a family-focused worker,” a Boston College study showed.
The report backs up their assertions with interviews from 64 U.S. families, and some of their profiles are just heartbreaking: A college professor who was told having children had prevented her from gaining tenure, a woman who worked in a vet’s office whose manager cut her hours and pay when she tried to discuss maternity leave, a bank employee who worked 38 hours a week — just short of full-time — and was given the teller station closest to the bathroom “so that she could take two steps to throw up, freshen up, and come back out.”
Though the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees with newborns to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without jeopardizing their jobs, only about half of U.S. workers are covered under it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 11 percent of American employees have the option of taking paid medical leave, which is offered by some employers but is not required by the government.
Working moms, what do you think? Is paid parental leave a perk, or a requirement?