Parental leave is the time parents are allowed to take off after the birth or adoption of a new child (APA). It is considered an employee benefit in America, though it often means time away from work without pay. On the national level, the USA is among the worst when it comes to parental leave, federal law requires just six week of unpaid time off for parents to adjust to having a new child. States may impose their own requirements, with a few requiring paid leave, but the majority just adhere to the federal requirements. In the U.S. there are a total of five states plus the District of Columbia that require paid leave for new parents: New York, Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, and Washington (Fatherly, 2021).
Comparing Maternity Laws
“The United States is the only wealthy country in the world without any guaranteed paid parental leave at the national level”. Mothers in Britain can take off an entire year, with 39 weeks as paid if they meet requirements. Sweden allows 480 days paid for a single parent or 240 days for two; Japan provides at least 50 percent of income for up to 14 months (Washington Post, 2021).
The state of Minnesota allows up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave with distinctive requirements: “they work for a company with 21 or more employees at one site; they have been with the company for at least 12 months; and they worked at least half time during the past 12 months.” (MN.gov). While it's a step in the right direction, it's not for people that work for smaller companies or get pregnant soon after starting a new job. Some companies may make people use sick days or PTO to fulfill the time off requirements. A proper leave encourages mothers to stay employed and fosters economic participation. It also allows for proper bonding between both parents and the new child, which benefits their development.
The Fight for Rights
Discrimination towards mothers is not uncommon in the workplace. They are commonly seen as “less devoted” to work and not as capable as their male counterparts (CNBC, 2019). This stigma is called the “motherhood penalty” and it affects women’s pay and sometimes, even job security. Employers are not allowed to ask you if you are pregnant or planning to be in interviews, nor is it legal for them to treat an employee differently after discovering such things, but pregnancy discrimination happens regularly. “Your employer cannot retaliate against you for requesting or taking a leave. You are entitled to employment in your former position or one with comparable duties, hours and pay” (MN.gov) The claims against employers are in the hundreds and rising every year (Forbes, 2021).
There are laws in place to protect workers who are pregnant, or planning to return to work, like the one stated above, but there are loopholes throughout the system that can make it difficult for women to take the time away that they need and come back to a healthy environment. All of this is meant to negatively affect mothers in the workplace and discourage time spent away from work.
As of early November 2021, a proposal was reintroduced to the house that pushes for four weeks of paid parental leave (CNBC, 2021). The original bill had a goal of 12 weeks paid parental leave, but that did not gain any momentum. Four week of paid parental leave is a small step towards equity for new parents.
Don't forget that our representatives in the House and Senate are just that, they are meant to represent the people. Parental leave is something that affects everyone, even if you are not planning on needing parental leave, your friends or family members might. Your signature on a petition to pass bills like this, or a share on your social media may not seem like a lot, but if we all act on making the workplace more supportive to parents, we are helping to support the next generation. It's true that this is a national issue, but we can start in Minnesota by advocating for the needs of newborns to spend more time with their parents and by not pushing mothers back to work before they are healed.