Paid Parental Leave

Check out the above graphic (provided by CamiliaUSA).  And it gets better.  Did you know that there are only 4 countries in the world who have no federal law mandating paid time off for new parents?  Yep: Swaziland, Papa New Guinea, Liberia, and the good ole US of A.


Here, the postpartum period is considered a period of “disability” and is paid out of Short Term Disability (STD) for 6-8 weeks.  Beyond that, we’re SOL.  Yes, we are provided a total of 12 weeks of job protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but as far as compensation goes – in most states – there is nothing.

Fortunately for me, I live in California, which does offer a slightly better plan.  After the 6-8 weeks of paid disability, I am provided the option of an additional 6 weeks of compensation up to 55% of my weekly salary (capped at about $1000/week) paid out of California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) plan.

As far as job protection goes, I am also better protected under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which allows for 12 weeks of job protection AFTER I’m released from Short Term Disability.

Bottom line is this: In most states, working mothers (and only mothers) are paid for 6-8 weeks postpartum (6 weeks for vaginal delivery, 8 weeks for c-section) out of Short Term Disability.  Beyond that, they remain job protected for an additional 4-6 weeks under FMLA (which provides 12 weeks total job protection – beginning with the birth of the child).  That breaks down as follows:

  • Job Protection:  12 weeks of FMLA each for mother and father, beginning when the baby is born (so up to 24 weeks if taken one after the other).
  • Compensation:  For the mother only, typically 6-8 weeks of full pay under STD.

In California, working mothers are also paid for 6-8 weeks postpartum under Short Term Disability.  But once they are released from FMLA, they are granted an ADDITIONAL 12 weeks of job protection under CFRA (vs. FMLA, which starts the clock upon the birth of the child).  Once STD coverage ends, both mothers AND fathers are each eligible for up to 6 weeks of compensation at 55% of their weekly salary under California’s PDL plan.  That breaks down like this:

  • CA Job Protection:  12 weeks each of concurrent FMLA and CFRA for mother and father, beginning when the baby is born.  The benefit for the mother is that while FMLA begins when the baby is born, CFRA protection doesn’t begin until she is released from Short Term Disability.  So this gives her an additional 12 weeks beyond the initial 6-8 weeks covered by STD/FMLA (that’s up to 18-20 weeks total).  If both parents take their full protected leaves one after the other, that is a total of 30-32 weeks of job protection.
  • CA Compensation:  For the mother only, typically 6-8 weeks of full pay under STD.  Beyond that, both the mother and father are each entitled to an additional 6 weeks of compensation of up to 55% of their respective weekly salaries (capped at $1000/week) under the CA PFL plan.

Confused yet?  Yeah, me too.  It took me no fewer than 5 phone calls to HR to understand my rights and entitlements, and I still have to refer back to my notes to make sure I’m understanding correctly.

Let’s compare this to the rights of our friendly neighbors to the north.  In Canada, mothers get 15 weeks of maternity leave paid at 55% of weekly salary (up to $485/week).  After that, mothers and fathers are entitled to an additional 35 weeks (to be shared) of paternity leave at the same pay scale.  Finally, there is an additional 2 week unpaid “waiting period” for benefits that is also job protected.  That’s a total of 52 weeks (1 full year) of job protection after the birth of a child!

And our neighbors to the south?  Mexican parents get 12 weeks maternity leave paid at 75% of salary.  Not too shabby.

And it gets better.  Canada is simply considered middle of the road as far as parental leaves go.  The Czech Republic, for example, allows for 28 weeks of maternity leave (6-8 weeks even before the birth of the child) paid at about 70% of normal salary.  After that, paid job protection is offered for up to 4 YEARS, paid on a sliding scale (the less time you opt to take, the more compensation you receive every month).  You heard that right… 4 YEARS!

Just one more example (of the many) is Norway.  Parents there can opt to receive either 56 weeks of leave at 80% pay, or 46 weeks at 100% pay.  Furthermore, the mother is required to take at least 3 weeks prior to birth and at least 6 weeks after.  Likewise, the father is required to take at least 12 weeks under the “daddy quota.”  Beyond all this, the mother and father can each opt to take an additional 12 months of job protected leave.  So, if the family decided to extend the leave as long as possible, that’s a total of 3 years and 1 month!

Now let’s look at some of the developing nations.  Surely an industrialized nation like the United States would offer leave programs at least comparable to those of developing nations?

Not so fast.

The Congo offers 15 weeks of maternity leave, paid at 100% of salary.  Vietnam offers 4-6 months, paid at 100% of salary.  India offers 12 weeks, paid at 100% of salary.  Even Afghanistan offers 12 weeks at 100%.

And the list goes on and on….

Perhaps one of the best examples is the United Nations.  Members of this organization are allotted 16 weeks of maternity leave paid at 100%, and 4-8 weeks of paternity leave paid at 100%.  I suppose you could consider this the international agreed-upon baseline.

We don’t even compare.

I’ve heard the counter-arguments, of course.  The cost.  The potential for discrimination against women in hiring.  Not to mention the fear that a parent would take advantage of the full paid leave, and then quit anyway (after becoming so accustomed to being at home, etc).

Let’s start with the cost.  Yes, there is a financial cost associated.  But there are ways to shoulder the burden.  In Canada, for example, the amount comes out of the federal Employment Insurance program – paid into by working Canadians.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be shouldered by employers.

As far as discrimination against women in hiring, that seems to be a pretty naive statement, assuming that only women would and should take parental leave.  If the policies were equivalent across both men and women, I doubt there would be much incentive for employers to hire one over the other.  Additionally, with all our laws protecting women and minorities from discriminatory hiring practices, I would hope that we’re protected here.

And for mothers (or fathers) opting to take long leaves and then quitting for good – well, yes, that is a risk.  However, I feel it is a much larger risk given the very short time period Americans have of protected leave today.  Parents are left with no good alternatives; we either leave our tiny 6 or 12-week-olds with caregivers, or simply give up and quit until they are older.  For me personally, this was a very very difficult decision, and I was “this close” to throwing my hands up and quitting until my son was older (and probably would have, had I not been fortunate enough to be offered a much more flexible position).  Canada, again, appears to be a good example in that after 12 months at home, statistics show that the vast majority of mothers feel ready to leave their children with other caregivers and transition back into their careers.  In addition, it is much easier to hire a temporary replacement for a 12-month contract instead of a temporary replacement for 6-12 weeks (which basically leaves the American employer SOL until the parent returns to work).

So where does this leave us?  We remain in the Bottom Four internationally as far as paid parental leave goes.  Not really something to be proud of for a nation that touts itself as the leader of the free world.  Consider that prior to 1993, there was NO provision for protected leave (and employers could deny at will), and I suppose we’ve come a little ways.

But we still have so much further to go.  We talk about the children being our future, yet are forcing mothers to leave them at 6-12 weeks-old.  I am constantly surprised in my conversations with other mothers; how many don’t realize how poorly our leave regulations fare against international standards.  Does that mean we just accept it they way it is?  That we assume this is the best we can get?

I hope not.  Our children and future generations depend on it.


One response to “Paid Parental Leave

  1. Pingback: Workplace Flexibility | 35mommy

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