The Importance of Parental Leave Policies in the Workplace
When it comes to the state of parental leave in the United States, mothers and fathers are too-often left holding the baby.
It’s no secret that Americans get far less vacation time than other developed nations throughout the world. Unfortunately, this trend only gets worse when it comes to leave for new parents in the U.S.
What is the Current System for Parental Leave in the United States?
NPR notes that the U.S. is one of only eight countries that has no national law guaranteeing paid parental leave for mothers or fathers. Many European nations, for example, not only offer extensive basic paid leave for mothers but include options such as home care leave.
While American maternity and paternity leave policies are not regulated by the government, there is a federal law in place to address the situation. The law mandates employers give parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child. This policy is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and comes with restrictions. One of those regulations is that it only applies to private employers with 50 or more employees. Approximately 40% of the workforce is unable to get leave under FMLA.
Maternity and paternity rules in America are left up to individual states. Currently, only four states force paid family and medical leave with still relatively minor assurances.
For example, California operates with a policy much like FMLA. The only major difference is that it applies to those with 20 or more employees. Washington technically passed a similar paid family leave law in 2007. Although, implementation of the law has been postponed.
Why is Leave so Important for New Parents?
In an article for Healthline, Monica Froese explained how it may be harder for those who aren’t working parents to undertand the problems situation families face today. “I had no idea how difficult it was to have a child and then be forced back to work 12 weeks later with no vacation time, a baby who was not sleeping through the night, a drained bank account, and feelings of a looming postpartum emotional breakdown.”
But why is leave so important for new parents?
Healing/Recuperation – Unsurprisingly, leave is especially important for mothers who need to recover. They need time to heal both physically and mentally after giving birth.
Pregnancy doesn’t stop affecting the body when the baby is born. Many physical problems can still occur after the birth. A mother may have to deal with swelling, sweating, stomach cramps, urinary issues and fatigue. Those issues could be even worse for mothers who underwent surgery during birth.
It’s not only recovered physical health that’s needed for mothers after birth. The Illinois Department of Health points out that countless new mothers experience mental illness as a result of pregnancy. Roughly 50% of new mothers are affected by a mild depression. Many other mothers will experience postpartum depression or rarely even devastating postpartum psychosis.
Sleep Deprivation – New mothers and fathers alike will also notice serious effects from sleep deprivation. We previously covered how a lack of sleep impacts work performance. Even if employees do come back to work soon after having a baby, the lack of sleep will mean their output is almost certainly not as per usual.
Baby Bonding – On a more personal level, parents need to have time to bond with their newborns.
Research with baby monkeys looked into the effects on children who were not allowed to bond with live mothers. That group experienced socialization problems and despair. Nemours’ KidsHealth states that scientists suspect that not bonding with parents could have the same consequences for human children.
Finances – Half of those who do qualify for FMLA cannot accept it for financial reasons. This makes sense considering the cost of living goes up dramatically for those with children. After birth, many homes cannot take the strain of both a baby and unpaid leave.
In the U.S., household incomes typically fall 10% at childbirth birth. The number doesn’t completely return to normal until parents are at work again. For single mothers, income can fall as much as 42% at time of childbirth and may still experience cuts in the months afterwards.
How Can Employers Offer Better Maternity and Paternity Leave?
Vacation time for new parents isn’t only helpful, it’s a necessity. And yet, many companies do not offer mothers and fathers the time off they desperately need.
Invest in your staff by choosing a parental leave policy that benefits both new mothers and fathers alike. That time gives them the chance to truly welcome a new life into their home.
Consider the choices of companies such as Spotify. They offer both mothers and fathers six months which can be taken over three years. Change.org, which offers both mothers and fathers 18 weeks of fully-paid family leave for biological or adopted children. Etsy also offers 26-week paid leave to be taken over two years by mothers and fathers of all kinds (biological, adoptive and surrogate).
We know that the health of employees is vital to a company. While we tend to focus on the physical health, there are many aspects that need to be considered. Healthy and happy employees are simply better employees.
And if nothing else, we need population growth to survive, both fundamentally and economically.
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Did you know the U.S. was one of only eight countries that doesn’t legally guarantee paid parental leave? What are your maternal and paternal leave policies like? How do you think other employers should handle this issue? Let us know via Facebook and Twitter.
Written for Passport Health by Katherine Meikle. Katherine is a research writer and proud first-generation British-American living in Florida, where she was born and raised. She has a passion for travel and a love of writing, which go hand-in-hand.