By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
In half of the two-parent family units in the United States, both parents work full-time. In 40 percent of those families, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner. Yet the United States remains the only industrialized nation without a paid family maternity leave law.
Although we have the Family Medical Leave Act, approximately 40 percent of American workers do not meet the requirements, so any medical leave they take is unpaid time off. The percentage of workers who do not meet the requirements is even lower for private-sector employees: Only 12 percent of workers in the private sector qualify for paid medical leave. Despite these grim statistics, there still is hope.
Organizations and lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of helping workers cope with life-changing events such as the birth of a child.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace report, last year organizations that offered paid maternity leave provided on average 41 days for the birth of a child, 22 days of paternity leave, 31 days of adoption leave and 36 days of surrogacy leave.
Recent trends toward universal paid leave include:
- New York, California, Rhode Island, Ohio and New Jersey have passed legislation that provides partial pay while an employee is on parental leave.
- In 2016, San Francisco passed legislation mandating up to six weeks of fully paid maternity leave.
- At the beginning of 2017, American Express expanded its paid parental leave policy for mothers and fathers to 20 weeks at full pay, plus another six to eight weeks for women who give birth and require medical leave.
- Recently, Washington, D.C., passed legislation that grants full- and part-time employees eight weeks of leave at up to 90 percent of their salary for the birth, adoption or fostering of children. The bill also includes six weeks of family leave to care for a sick family member and two weeks for a personal medical emergency.
- Furniture retailer IKEA offers U.S. employees 16 weeks of paid parental leave.
- Tech company Etsy’s employees are eligible for 26 weeks of fully paid leave when they become parents.
- Accounting and professional services firm Ernst & Young has increased its paid parental leave policy to 16 weeks.
Americans Still Not on Par with Other Countries’ Paid Leave Policies
President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 calls for granting parents up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. However, the states will play a key role in funding and administering the program if the proposal becomes law.
After reading how some state and corporate organizations are addressing family leave, it could be argued that the federal government will still be far behind what other countries and some American corporations are offering.
However, you could say that something is better than nothing. Also, Trump’s new family leave bill includes paid leave for fathers and adoptions. Therefore, it appears some progress is being made even if it is not on a par with other nations or some U.S. states.
Other concerns about the proposed Trump plan include:
- Mandating states to create a program if they do not currently offer at least six weeks.
One of the problems with this recommendation is that the proposed leave time is still less than what some companies now offer. Also, Democrats in Congress have proposed the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would create a fund to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year. But some experts say the proposal doesn’t go far enough.
- Funding paid parental leave programs through existing state-based unemployed insurance (UI) systems, which are funded by unemployment taxes paid by employers.
The unemployed insurance system has its problems. Placing another program under its umbrella could be setting up the entire program for failure and potential funding problems. For example, during the recent recession, 36 states depleted their unemployed insurance funds.
However, this program could be geared more toward small businesses, since some larger organizations are implementing programs that are more comprehensive and provide longer periods of leave time.
Given everything that the current administration is attempting to accomplish, I still believe the best hope for broader acceptance of family leave policies lies with employers.
Companies seem to be better equipped and have more knowledge about what their employees want. Companies also know what they can afford. A Pew Research Center survey found that employees believe their employers should cover the costs of family leave. The evidence is further supported by the number of organizations that have taken the lead in implementing a generous program that meets the needs of their employees.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.