A fading benefit: Paid parental leave rare in U.S. even as other countries offer months, years of paid leave
Fargo - It can be difficult for moms to return to work after the birth of a child.
“I just didn’t want to miss things with them,” the 33-year-old mother of four said. “I didn’t want to deal with if they were sick having to take a day off of work and figuring that out. I really wanted to be around for them.”
Breidenbach found a job that offers her greater scheduling flexibility and the ability to earn an income, but changing careers after the birth of a child isn’t always an option.
Some parents say more paid time off would help ease that transition back to work.
Brooke Fradet of Barnesville, Minn., said she would have loved more time off after the birth of her kids. The 33-year-old mother of two took 12 weeks off after her first child was born and six weeks after her second. The only paid leave she had was PTO she had accrued.
When it was time to return to work, she said it was hard to leave her children.
“When it’s mostly you taking care of their every need for an extended period of time, it’s difficult to relinquish control to someone else, no matter how much you trust the other person’s capabilities,” she said.
Paid parental leave is an important benefit, especially for young workers, said LeAnn Moos, Fargo-Moorhead Human Resource Association president. But, she said, it’s a benefit that has been fading.
“It’s becoming more common for employers not to offer paid leave. It all just boils down to cost. It’s extremely expensive,” she said. “It’s a huge consideration for employers. They need someone to do the work, but they don’t want to lose a good employee, either.”
Another factor employers have to consider, she said, is that not everyone uses the benefit.
“It’s not that paid maternity or paternity leave isn’t a desired benefit,” she said. “It often just doesn’t fit within the budget. Many employers have chosen to allocate those dollars to benefits that are utilized by the majority.”
North Dakota is one of 17 states that does not require employers to provide any paid benefits or programs for new parents, Moos said.
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires most employers of more than 50 people to give both male and female employees the option of taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave within one year of the birth or adoption or placement of foster care of a child.
Most FMLA leave taken is for an employee’s own illness, according to an FMLA survey. Leave for pregnancy or a new child is less common at 21 percent. Nearly half of all leave is for 10 days or less and less than a fifth lasts more than 60 days.
Five percent of employees reported that they needed leave but were unable to take it. Nearly half of those employees said it was because they couldn’t afford to take the time off.
Moos said the national standard is six weeks of leave for a natural birth and eight weeks for a cesarean birth.
Short-term disability often gives women partial pay during maternity leave, but most employers who offer maternity benefits have waiting periods and most also require employees to exhaust their vacation and sick time first, Moos said.
“It can be a headache for parents because they have to worry about that lost income,” she said. “At the same time, you don’t get that time back with your child.”
While fathers are entitled to time off under the law, Moos said most don’t take the full 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently stated in its Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues that the requirement that parental leave (which is distinct from medical leave associated with childbearing or recovering from childbirth) be provided to men and women on the same terms.
So basically, if moms are given time (beyond labor recovery time) for bonding with their kids, men should be given that, too.
Both Fradet and Breidenbach supported that change, saying it’s just as important for dads to bond with their children as it is for moms.
Breidenbach added that having dad around to help out more would also likely help moms in their recovery time, she said.
While Tim Breidenbach, Breanna’s husband, said he would have loved to take more time off after the births of his children, he was either transitioning jobs or couldn’t afford to take more than his allotted paid time off. He also didn’t want to use up all of his PTO at once.
“As our family grows and we’re trying to build income, I would take off the bare minimum of work to help out,” he said. “We couldn’t go unpaid.”
One-tenth of the workforce has access to employer-provided paid family leave to care for a new child, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families’ state-by-state analysis of laws that help new parents, which the group released last month. Fewer than 40 percent of workers have access to employer-provided short-term disability insurance, which provides some income during a woman’s pregnancy-related disability leave.
Employers have cut back paid maternity leave benefits in recent years, with 9 percent offering fully paid maternity leave in 2014, down from 16 percent in 2008 and 27 percent in 1998, the report stated.
In a few states, people can take longer, unpaid, job-protected time away from their jobs than the FMLA provides and in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, new parents can use statewide paid family leave insurance to receive four to six weeks of income support while on leave after the arrival of a new child, according to the report.
North Dakota received an F and Minnesota received a B- for their laws that help new parents.
Some U.S. companies go above and beyond the minimum requirement. Bank of America offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave for mothers, fathers and adoptive parents, according to learnvest.com. At Discovery Communications, working mothers can take up to 11 weeks off with full pay, plus another four weeks with partial pay. Adoptive parents and fathers can take three weeks off with pay.
Research shows that when both mothers and fathers take longer leave after the birth of a child, it’s better for the child and family’s health, according to the Women and Families report.
But the report shows that businesses also benefit from paid family leave because it keeps people in their jobs and able to spend money at businesses in their communities, worker turnover declines and loyalty increases. Worker retention saves employers money, the report states, because turnover costs are estimated to average one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary.
Families also rely less on public assistance when new parents have access to paid leave, according to the report.
Still, the United States is lagging when it comes to parental leave.
The United States ranks last out of 38 nations for paid parental leave, according to the Pew Research Center, based on data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Estonia ranked first by providing 108 weeks of paid leave and 180 weeks of protected leave as allowed by federal law.
The median amount of fully paid time moms could take off after the birth of a child is five to six months, Pew Research Center stated.
According to the Women and Families report, 181 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers and 81 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers. The United States guarantees neither.
To read the National Partnership for Women and Families’
state-by-state analysis of laws that help new parents, go to: www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/expecting-bette...