Maternity Leave

June 4, 2009 at 9:52 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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Bree over at Parental Discretion Advised wrote a particularly poignant post about maternity/parental leave in the US (after a few paragraphs about pink eye, heh). I remember being absolutely flabbergasted at my company’s maternity policy: 5 weeks paid, 1 week of manditory sick leave, and the rest came out of my sick/vacation/personal time. I was even more surprised to discover that this was considered a good policy — many of my friends didn’t have any paid time at all. I thought 12 weeks was a pretty standard maternity leave, and had no idea women were using every bit of available time off to get it. Fortunately for me I had built up 20 vacation days and 10 sick days in my 9 years with the company. And Liam was born right at the end of the year, which helped me, too. So I salvaged 4 vacation days this year. But I doubt many are that lucky. I would have been horrified to go back to work after only 6 or 8 weeks — during the worst of my battles with breastfeeding, Liam still waking up twice in the night, and my body still recovering from the trauma of delivery. It wasn’t until week 6 that I could even walk without a limp.

I’d love it if companies would re-evaluate their leave policy, but with the economy the way it is, I highly doubt that will happen. When I returned to work just in time for a giant restructuring of our group, I knew a major factor was the maternity leave that I and another co-worker took at almost the same time. The company had to hire freelancers to cover us, which cost them quite a bit. Moving forward, if anyone in the art department takes extended leave, we’re supposed to step in and help cover each other. On paper this sounds good, but I know when my time comes again in a few years, I’m going to feel guilty about saddling another art director with my workload for 12 weeks. And I’ll probably feel obligated to take less time with my second child, even though I would benefit from 12 weeks off.

Who knows…maybe James and I will live in Rome by then 😉 Viva la Italia!

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  1. Your childfree friend is going to bite on this one. My self-esteem is too good to be materially impacted if I get flamed.

    I do think it is extremely important to spend time at home with a newborn. I don’t doubt that the time is essential to recover from the physical trauma of delivery and major life changes which ensue. My personal opinion is that ideally children should not be had until finances have been planned sufficiently to permit one parent to stay at home full-time at least until the kid reaches school age. My mom did this, and I have no doubt that I was ahead in school because of it.

    So to the extent FMLA requires and / or employers enact policies to hold jobs during a reasonable leave period, I think that is OK, though there is a significant cost to employers who must pay others to pick up the slack. I have seen the impact to employers in my law practice, and it is a substantial source of stress for small and mid-size businesses. One CEO at a high profile ophthalmology practice in KC once told me that he spends over an hour a day on FMLA matters, and he can generate spreadsheets to document the money the practice loses on its leave policy. Currently, only employers with 50 or more employees are required to hold the same or similar job for 12 weeks. Unless there is an applicable state law, smaller employers are not required to do this. NObama wants to decrease the 50 employee threshold to trigger the application of FMLA, which I think will be a substantial burden to many small businesses. This makes me think I will continue to be a Republican, Sarah Palin notwithstanding.

    While I can be convinced that holding a job is the right thing to do, paid leave policies irritate me quite a bit more. Most paid leave is only offered to mothers; I’ve seen very few paid “paternity” policies that exist or are actually used by those lacking a uterus. There are even fewer paid leave policies available to non-parents who desire time away to make a different choice with their life. My former employer offered 6 months of leave, 3 of which were paid, and it really made me want to fake a pregnancy. As I see it, employers should offer either: 1) paid leave for a specified time that is available to all employees regardless of the nature of the leave; or 2) no paid leave to anyone other than normal vacation policies. Parents are already heavily favored under the tax code and in employee benefits, and only making paid leave available to those who make the choice to have children seems a little discriminatory. Having children is a choice that carries financial consequences, and neither choice is right or wrong. However, to have an employment policy that favors one choice over another is illogical to me. Other people may want paid time off for other purposes, but employers make a judgment about what kinds of leave merit pay. What happened to equal pay for equal work?

    • Heh heh, you knew I couldn’t let this slide without a response 🙂 You do make some valid points here…this is definitely a burden on employers, particularly small business owners. And it does seem unfair to someone either male or with no intention of having children. But look at it from this perspective — 35 years ago women in the workplace were often times forced to quit their jobs to become mothers. Through legistlation for equal rights, women were slowly but surely granted leave so they could keep their jobs and become mothers. While your mom and mine elected to stay home, many moms in their generation and those that followed were finally able to balance work and home (or at least have the opporunity to try). I think people our age take that for granted. In fact, I think there’s been a backlash of women realizing they’d rather stay home than work. Some days I think I’d like to be one of them. And some days I’m ever-so-thankful I kept my job. Financially, I don’t think James and I could have swung it for another few years, if then. And then we were skirting on that upper limit of pregnancy viability…a catch-22, unfortunately. When you’re young enough to easily conceive, you usually aren’t financially stable enough to live on one income. that’s the unfortunate reality.

      As far as the fairness of it all, I can see your point. It would be nice if employers would offer a simliar leave program for people choosing not to have children. However, and now I can speak from experience, 12 weeks of leave was hardly a work-time hiatus. Even James, who was fortunate to have three weeks of paternity leave granted, has no concept of the emotional, physical, and downright exhaustive trials I went through as a new mother. I see this as less of a “get to have time off” as a “have to have time off.” Those of us who chose this knew it was going to be hard, and we don’t mean to be whiny. But it astounds me how hard those first 3 months were, and how I even survived it. Getting childcare lined up was no picnic, either…I needed every moment of my leave just to get that arranged in time, too.

      And then for the financial side — and then I promise I’m done 🙂 I’m glad I was able to collect 5 weeks of pay for my 12 weeks off. From what I understand, that was all provided from an outside, government-funded agency, so the cost to my employer was just for someone to fill in for me. And I was fortunate to have had enough vacation/sick/personal time not to forego any paychecks. But after hospital bills rolled in, and bills for diapers, clothes, formula, and everything else baby-related, I quickly realized I couldn’t possibly have done without a paycheck. I’m sure many new families are in the same boat. So while, yes, it seems that employers are favoring those who make the choice to have a family, i see it more as leveling the playing field. While the childless get to spend their money on vacations, I’m looking at 5 years of just making ends meet. Anything my employer can do to help ease that pain is welcome.

      thanks for your comments, jen. We may never see eye-to-eye on this issue, but I welcome other viewpoints 🙂

  2. Thank you for your response. It is very well said, and I appreciate your viewpoint, too. The only point I’d like to make in rebuttal is that we childfree people get frustrated with the perception that we only desire equal time off as a work hiatus or to take lavish vacations. (Though I admit that I like lavish vacations on those rare instances that we have time to take them). Sometimes, we the childfree would have other worthwhile things to do with leave time if we had it. I admit that I do not excel at altruism, but let me give you two examples from my life. First, a few months ago, my grandfather in New Orleans was diagnosed with cancer, and had many procedures which necessitated many doctor appointments and several hospital stays. My grandparents are in their 90s, could not drive to these appointments or take care of necessities such as grocery shopping, and our few other family members in town also had significant time pressures. I would have loved to have had a leave bank that I could have used to stay in N.O. and help. I acknowledge that is not as physically taxing as childbirth, but from a familial perspective I don’t think it is any less important. The FMLA requires employers to offer leave time for the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition; however, the definition of “immediate family member” includes only spouses, parents and children. Second, I had the opportunity last year to teach (without pay) healthcare law at Rockhurst’s MBA/D.O. program. I didn’t feel I had time to try out teaching and be fair to my employer. Again, it would have been wonderful to have had a leave bank that I could have used to try teaching. These activities in no way benefit my employer, and I would not expect to get paid leave, but it sure would be nice if everyone else (men, the childfree) had leave time offered on an equal basis as a mother with 2 or 3 kids. I still think that if leave time is a benefit offered to one employee, it should be offered on an equal basis to all employees with similar positions in the company.

    • I hate to say this, but allowing all employees a bank of time off like that could lead to a slippery slope (eek, i hate that word!), with managers getting constant requests that they have to sift through and deem worthy or not worthy of that much time off. It might leave some employees angry that they weren’t granted it while others were. Or, if anyone can take off that time for any reason, it would be an even greater burden to employers. I think it would have been great for you to take time off for your family or to volunteer to teach. Maybe instead of a nationwide standard, this should simply be an employer’s best practice for taking care of their employees.

      Just one more thing I wanted to bring up — as far as the tax code favoring families with children, I think we got something like $1500 for Liam this year. Or maybe as much at $3000. But certainly not more. My hospital bills, what the insurance didn’t cover, topped $2000. And my yearly childcare expenses are almost $20,000. So $3000 is barely a drop in the bucket.

  3. Hmmm…althogh my comment will not be as eloquent at Jenny’s, I would like to jump in a little.

    First off, having a child is a choice. Although, I am all up for women being able to make their choices… no kids, kids with a stay home mom, kids with a career…etc. I feel as Jenny does that giving an exorbitant amount of paid maternity leave is unfair or even discriminatory.

    Secondly, as for the financial burden of needing a second pay check. I feel that has more to do with the life people are accustomed to before they had children. People seem to want to continue living life at the same standard as they did before. I know many people who raise kid(s) on a 30K budget. Yes baby “stuff” is expensive, but there are several ways to cut back.

    You both spoke of our mothers times, or even our grandmothers time? They used cloth diapers, many made the baby cloths, and many made the baby food. They did not have babies R us toys, Gap dresses, Pottery Barn cradles. Did we just get lazy, greedy or both?

    It is not easy to be a parent, I see it every day with my roommates and their children; but it is a choice, and people should be prepared to do what is best for their children, not for themselves. If that means only one bread winner and a tighter budget, then that is the choice they made.

    You should also understand that I also feel not everyone should be allowed to have children either. Just because someone “can” do something, doesn’t mean they should.

    • thanks for joining in, Tori! oh, lordy, if I had to make my baby’s clothes and use cloth diapers, I might just shoot myself! Even if I decided to stay home instead of working 40-hours a week…it’s just not in me to be that crafty or ambitious. My mom did, in fact, make a lot of our clothes and used cloth diapers… because she had to. Neither of my parents went to college, and we grew up on a very modest, one-income salary. It’s human nature to want to do better than our parents, and do better for our kids. Unfortunately, that also means we tend to want to buy more things, get top-of-the-line childcare, and other things that add up.

      And James, Mr Republican himself, wants to add his two cents. *Mandy’s Musings does not necessarily agree (or admit she agrees) with the opinions expressed by her husband:

      While I can see the surface validity of your and Jenny’s arguement, I think that what you fail to consider is that the people who most need and benefit from maternity leave are usually the more educated hard working members of society and the lack of a viable maternity policy is more likely to make those people think twice about having children. It is not really a major burden for the minimum wage or welfare mother to quit her job and pop out kids to her heart’s content, thus populating the world with even more of the kind of uneducated bucket-heads that I am sure Jenny thinks of when she imagines children. For society to continue to progress and not devolve into some dystopia ala the movie “Idiocracy” we need to foster childbearing in the educated classes. It sounds mean, but poor, uneducated people breed like rabbits, which explains why most of the third world is so f’d up. If you look at the population trends, the rates for first world (generally more affluent and educated) countries such as in Europe are in decline while those for the Third World (Africa, Latin America, etc.) are steadily growing. I am just saying that I don’t want to live in a world were the uneducated inherit the earth.

  4. This time I have to debate with James a little. This is new territory for me; James and I tend to agree on most things. I have thought about it and I question whether the leave policies truly benefit the well-educated hard-working women. Sure, these women have leave so they can keep their jobs, but wind up so exhausted and resentful trying to be both Super-mom and Super-executive that they don’t excel at either task. Maybe more people should choose one or the other. A well-educated woman who gives up a job to raise her children is quite capable of fostering new, highly-educated productive members of society. I also don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing that a leave policy would make someone think twice about having children. I believe a large problem is that many people (well-educated or not), do not stop to think about whether they want children and what the real impact on life will be… it’s just one of those things that you are “supposed to” do. Additionally, it is among the well-educated and hard-working (who also tend to have higher incomes) where the biggest disparities in paid leave policies are created. For example, a woman making $150,000 a year who has 3 months paid leave times 3 children earns $112,500 + the value of continued benefits during her leaves. No comparable employee benefit exists for a man or childfree woman with the same job. Finally, I’m not so sure we haven’t already reached the societal dystopia.

    Regarding the tax code, Amanda, in 2009 one child is worth a deduction of $3650, plus a credit of $1000, which is a dollar-for-dollar offset of taxes due. I believe there is also a credit related to child care. Plus, you could avoid paying tax on $5000 by contributing to a Section 125 plan for dependent care expenses and you could avoid paying tax on $16,500 by contributing to a Section 457 plan for college savings. If I had the 125 and 457 deductions available, I could save $10750 in 2009 in taxes. How is that not a skewed public policy? Those are just the obvious examples in the tax code; I’m sure there are more.

  5. I hesitate to even add anything as frankly, I am pretty disgusted by many of the comments above and believe in the adage “never argue with a fool.” Lest we forget, we are human beings, not automatons. Every day I contribute to paying for the choices other people make, which are hardly as worthy as bringing up the next generation of leaders and intellects. Employers afford certain concessions to retain good employees. Take a look at some other countries with more progressive outlooks on supporting family and work balance. Are they crumbling?
    If you feel leave policies are unfair, work to progress them, not penalize mothers.


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