Pregnancy and Parenting in the Workplace

by Gabrielle Balzell

Despite great strides, the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in postpartum policy.

Although citizens of the United States enjoy many privileges and liberties unattainable in other nations, American women still struggle for equal rights in the workplace, especially when it comes to balancing their careers with pregnancy and parenting. While the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act and 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantee moms’ jobs for up to a dozen weeks after their baby’s arrival, as well as benefits equal to those bestowed upon any employee with medical leave or disability, these laws lag behind the policies of nearly every other country in the world. In addition, many businesses are exempt from the FMLA—so many, in fact, that the National Partnership for Women & Families reports less than half of American workers have access to the protections provided by the Act.

According to the International Labour Organization, the U.S. joins the likes of Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea as the only countries not to enact paid maternity leave policies. While our neighbors across the pond in the United Kingdom can enjoy up to 280 days of paid maternity and paternity leave, Britain has nothing on Sweden, where parents are allocated 480 days per child of shared paid leave (up to 80 percent of their income) that can be used anytime up to the child’s eighth birthday.

Numerous studies show that early bonding with parents sets children up for long-term health and well-being, yet many American families cannot afford to take time away from work to do so. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, just 11 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance.

Currently, advocates are working to pass a federal law mandating paid family leave in Congress, while a growing number of states, such as California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington, are passing their own similar laws. Many companies, including Google, have found that offering extended, paid maternity leave keeps new-mom attrition to a minimum and effectively lowers the long-term costs associated with replacing employees who leave their jobs to tend to a newborn.

In the meantime, here are five facts working women should know about pregnancy and parenting in the workplace, courtesy of the New-York based advocacy group, A Better Balance:

  1. Women with a pregnancy-related "disability" may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation at work under federal law, while women with "normal" pregnancies are not entitled to the same explicit protections and often find themselves out of luck—or out of a job.
  2. Disability benefits for pregnancy and childbirth do not guarantee job protection—new moms may find their position has been filled or eliminated upon their return to work.
  3. Provisions within the Affordable Care Act mandate that most employers provide a clean, private space, other than a bathroom, where new moms can pump breast milk without interruption.
  4. Depending on where they live within the U.S., women may be entitled to more than $1,000 per week in benefits while on maternity leave—or nothing at all.
  5. Moms make five-percent less per child in salary than their childless peers.

Learn more about parents’ rights in the workplace and the campaign for paid family leave in the U.S. by visiting abetterbalance.org or nationalpartnership.org. iBi

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