The United States prides itself on its family values. But when compared to other industrialized countries – and even developing countries – its respect of maternity leave is at the bottom of the list. In fact, the U.S. is the only high-income nation that doesn't offer paid maternity leave, placing it among the ranks of Liberia and Swaziland. In the U.S., only 11 percent of private workers have access to paid family leave.
Overall, there's no overarching federal policy that requires every company to provide paid or unpaid maternity leave. Therefore, it's up to moms- and dads-to-be to understand the rights you do have in order to take the time necessary to bond with your little one.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
The most prevalent means by which new mother's take off time from work is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which allows parents to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to welcome a child to their home, whether by birth or by adoption, and to ensure that their job – or an equivalent job – is waiting for them when they return to work. In order to qualify, your company must employ 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, and you must have worked at the company for one year and logged 1,250 hours the past year. Remember that FMLA is job protection, but it is not a means of compensation during your absence.
Unlike FMLA, short-term disability insurance is a means of receiving compensation during your leave. Frequently, your short-term disability policy will pay a portion of your income while you are on FMLA leave or other leave that your employer may offer. In many instances, your company may offer short-term disability insurance (STD) that they cover or for which the employee pays a monthly premium. In general, STD may pay up to 60 percent of your salary while you are on leave. While six weeks is the standard, often new mothers are covered up to eight weeks if they have a caesarian delivery or other complications. Look to your individual plan description for coverage and duration of your particular policy.
Resources for Those Not Covered at Work
So where does that leave everyone else? Unfortunately, for many, there is no coverage at all, especially for part-time workers or workers who just started their positions. There's no guarantee their jobs will exist when they return, and in many cases, these mothers don't take the six weeks medical professionals recommend. Twelve states, such as California and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, have tried to fill in the gaps by establishing state maternity laws that cover a higher percentage of workers.
Overall, the U.S. has a long way to go in giving moms the time needed to bond with their children. The Field School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that maternity leave is associated with lower infant mortality rates, a higher rate of breastfeeding which strengthens the health of infants, and benefits to a woman's health. Accordingly, women's rights issues are a continuing issue of national concern and deserve the public's ongoing attention.