Maternity Leave in the United States
by Dana Fenton
Around 24% of the top companies in America provide a working mother with 4 weeks or less of maternity leave, while 52% provide a new mother with 6 weeks or less. The United States has a very different approach to the subject of maternity leave in comparison to the rest of the world.
In Canada, new mothers can expect up to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, while in Sweden a new mother can split up to 16 months of maternity leave at 80% of her salary with a partner. The United States and Australia are the only industrialized nations that do not have a paid maternity leave provision for new mothers on a national scale. Though there are some exceptions made in a few states in America, most companies do not offer the option of paid maternity leave for expectant mothers.
There are no federal laws in place to mandate paid maternity leave; however, there are two laws designed to protect the rights of an employee in relation to pregnancy, adoption, parenthood, and caring for gravely ill family members.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires an employer to treat an expectant mother in the same manner as any other employee with a temporary medical disability. All conditions of employment such as pay rates, incentives, paid sick time, health benefit coverage and temporary disability insurance apply. The law forbids an employer from discriminating against a pregnant worker or forcing them into taking a leave of absence for pregnancy reasons. The law does not have a provision for paid leave however, if an employer provides a paid leave for certain medical conditions, pregnancy must be included. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to companies that have more than 15 employees.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) protects an employee’s job in the event a leave of absence is taken because of an employee’s own personal disability or illness, including maternity leave, adoption, fostering a child, or taking care of a gravely ill member of the immediate family such as a spouse, parent, or child. FMLA applies to an employee has worked for their company for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 consecutive months. The law applies to companies who have more than 50 employees. Under the provisions of FMLA, an eligible employee can receive:
- Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year (leave may be taken consecutively or intermittently, and for a portion or all of a day)
- Continuing health insurance benefits (if already provided by the employer)
- Job protection (an employee is guaranteed to return to the same job or its equivalent)
Congress is now considering more legislation in regards to supporting the rights of working parents. Recently, two bills have been introduced which provide paid time off for new parents and other workers. Entitled the Family Leave Insurance Act (S 1681), this incentive would offer up to 8 weeks of paid leave to new parents or those employees who need time off to care for an ill family member. The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (HR 3158) would grant federal employees up to 8 weeks of paid parental leave. These two bills, if passed in Congress, would effectively give American workers more paid family leave than is currently available, improve economic security of a family, and improve the health and welfare of both mother and infant.
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