Half of the workforce is female, but only 12% of women have paid maternity leave, according to the United States Department of Labor. The United States is the only industrialized country around the globe that doesn’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave, even though studies show health benefits to children, mothers, and fathers when parental leave is provided. Paid maternity and paternity leave make sense both economically and from the standpoint of health.
Infant mortality is reduced by up to 10% in 141 countries with paid leave policies. This leave allows for infants to receive necessary medical care and vaccinations during one of their most vulnerable times of life.
Parental leave also increases how long mothers feel comfortable breastfeeding. Mothers who receive paid leave breastfeed for twice as long as those who don’t get leave. Since breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of infection, asthma, obesity, and SIDS, there are benefits for the health care system in improving the chances of a mother being able to breastfeed comfortably for a longer duration.
Mothers get benefits too, since breastfeeding makes them less likely to get ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and heart disease. They are also likely to have fewer depressive symptoms after having the child, and mental health benefits make them less likely to suffer mental health issues 30 years later.
Some opponents of having paid parental leave argue that we already have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA allows eligible workers of covered employers to take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks. However, it provides this leave to a limited number of workers. Many women who work for smaller businesses or in low-wage jobs aren’t eligible. The FMLA only applies to workers for employers that have 50 or more employees. Employees can take the leave only if they’ve worked for at least 12 months for their employer and for at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months prior to leave, and if they work in a place where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within a 75-mile radius.
Women (and men) shouldn’t have to choose between working and having children. Leaving it up to employers whether to provide paid maternity leave results in women being treated as less desirable hires. Although Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act were supposed to combat the problem of discrimination against women and especially pregnant women, in reality it is difficult to establish that a woman experienced discrimination due to an employer’s bias against women who want to have families. A far more direct path to combat this discrimination would be to allow for paid parental leave, both to new mothers and to new fathers.
Children put an enormous financial strain on a family, and to allow a 12-week leave to be taken, but only unpaid, winds up being a very restricted choice. Only the very wealthy can afford to make this decision in favor of taking the leave. In a time of increasing income inequality, often due to big business lobbying efforts, employees should be able to make a free choice to stay home and bond with their newborn. The benefits to society of having healthy babies and secure family bonds between parents and children should not be questioned.
Generally, companies that provide paid maternity and paternity leave, such as Facebook and Google, see increased employee loyalty. Employees who are loyal are more likely to be productive and creative on the job, and ultimately this furthers an employer’s interest—profitability. Paid maternity and paternity leave further the interests of workers, employers, and society at large.
It can be important to obtain representation from an experienced employment lawyer when you have a dispute with your employer regarding discrimination or other matters. Contact us at (214) 528-6500 or via our online intake form.
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