Having a baby is one of the most magical and overwhelming experiences human beings can go through. There will be lots of ups and downs for both of the new parents. Often, one of the things they have to navigate is paid (or unpaid) parental leave as well as job security when they do feel ready to return to work.
Compared to other countries, parental leave is pretty lackluster in the United States. According to the World Policy Analysis Center, the United States is the only wealthy country that doesn’t have guaranteed paid parental leave mandated on the federal level.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does guarantee a majority of workers working at companies with at least 50 employees access to unpaid family caregiver leave without risk of losing their jobs. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. is one of six countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave.
Parental leave is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as “leave for an employee to take care of a newborn child, recently adopted child, foster child, or a child otherwise needing parental care.”
Just 23% of Americans working at private companies are eligible for paid family leave as of 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those employed by the federal government are granted 12 weeks of paid leave following the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act of 2020.
Currently, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is being considered by Congress, which would give workers up to 12 weeks of partial income for taking time off for any health related reason, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery, birth or adoption, and more.
This would cover full time and part time employees working at any size company. This would also include contract workers and self-employed workers.
It should go without saying that parents shouldn’t have to be back at work within days or weeks of having a child. It’s quite sad that the reality of unpaid leave is so prevalent in the United States.
There has been plenty of research done that show that parents that receive paid parental leave have better rates of physical and mental health, as well as their children.
Senior Fellow for Paid Leave Policy and Strategy at New America’s Better Life Lab Vicki Shabo told Scary Mommy: “Access to paid and unpaid leave in the U.S. is all too rare, and it’s confusing. This is unfortunate — advocates and people who’ve experienced confusion and disappointment are working hard for change. Start early in researching your options and asking your employer for what you’ll need.”
She recommends: “For companies with HR manuals or policy handbooks, start there and then talk to someone in HR. If you’re with a small company or a company that hasn’t had someone take a parental leave before, you should also approach HR, but do a little bit of research first about your industry and use resources produced by organizations like The Skimm or Paid Leave for the U.S. for guidance on what to ask for. Also, confirm whether your state has a paid family and medical leave program (or a temporary disability insurance program in place) and whether the unpaid family and medical leave and pregnancy disability protections in your state provide you rights and protections.”
In short, Shabo summarized: “Know your rights, talk to other people in your community and your workplace, and breathe deeply.”