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What Are Some of the Maternity Leave Challenges in the U.S. Today?


Ask any average American Joe on the street, and they will tell you that America is the greatest country in the world. This country is definitely better than African countries such as Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Or is it? Are you aware that the United States is in some rather dubious company with these countries? The one thing all of these countries have in common would be that they have some maternity leave challenges for females in the workforce. Other than Australia, the United States is the only industrialized nation not to offer any sort of paid maternity leave.

Let us examine the laws regarding leave for pregnancy and maternity leave up close. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is the first federal law that you should be aware of. This Act makes it illegal for employers to fire, refuse to hire or deny a woman a promotion because she is pregnant. However, it does not provide any job protection for new parents on maternity leave.

The second federal law that you should be aware of is the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides millions of workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time away from their job due to maternity leave or to recover from illness.

A number of companies offer a short-term paid disability to assist you during a maternity leave of absence and to recover from childbirth. Some companies are stricter than others in allowing a new mom on maternity leave to qualify for this paid benefit. Ask your HR representative if this is an option for you.

Maternity leave in this country is under the direction of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. In this case, even Australia has the U.S. beat, offering 12 months, not 12 weeks, of unpaid family leave. When you consider that other countries offer even longer periods of time with paid leave, you see just how bad the maternity leave challenges are in the United States.

Unfortunately, even in this limited system, there are many disadvantages. First of all, the FMLA in this country can only extend to businesses with 50 employees or more. Secondly, many people simply cannot afford the time off because they would miss their paycheck way too much!

There is no question that the United States has a long way to go when it comes to protecting working mothers. There are a lot of families who just cannot afford to live on one income, and many workers are single mothers also. This is why you might need some creativity and some out-of-the-box thinking. Of course, if you disagree with the stingy policies, you also can get involved! Write your Congressman or senator, write your Governor, are you going right the current president. If you work as an advocate you can get the laws changed. You can remind these people just how generous maternity leave is in other countries and hopefully vanquish some of the maternity leave challenges. Here are some examples you could give them:

  • Mothers of infants in Finland can get up to three years of paid leave if they wish.
  • In Norway, new mothers can get 91 weeks.
  • The United Kingdom gives new parents 39 weeks
  • New Canadian parents get one year.

While most of us can depend on FMLA to guarantee us a return to our jobs, some workers cannot. FMLA is only applicable to workers in a business who hires more than 50 employees. The FMLA protects working women and men who have been working for the same employer for at least one year and who have been working for at least 1250 hours over the course of that year. About 40% of U.S. workers do not fall within these boundaries. Still, more workers who are eligible to use FMLA coverage basically can’t afford to take leave for maternity causes without any pay. In a department of labor study, 78 percent of workers who needed to use FMLA did not do so because they simply could not afford the unpaid leave.

So how does this affect your maternity leave?

It means that you may have to end your maternity leave before you are ready to leave your baby. Because of this unfortunate circumstance, other options for your maternity leave will need to be considered if you live in the United States. To avoid these scenarios, start considering your options before you go on maternity leave. Some scenarios where you could continue working and still tend to your inventory include job sharing, telecommuting, simply staying home full-time, or starting your own business.

Job Sharing:

  • This is where you share your job with another person, cutting your hours to half of what they once were. This allows you to spend more bonding time with your baby, while still providing you with some income.

Telecommuting:

  • Working from home may be a possibility if you have a computer, good Internet connection, and a telephone – at least while on a partial maternity leave.

Staying Home Full Time:

  • Can you temporarily streamline your budget in order to stay home?
  • Consider things that can be cut out without causing many hardships.

Starting Your Own Business:

  • There are very many possibilities out there from starting your own childcare business to selling goods on e-bay.

Why are there so many maternity leave challenges in the United States? Part of the reason is that business owners have a phobia regarding giving women paid maternity leave. They are concerned that it will leave them with a loss of productivity in the workplace as they have to hire temps to replace the permanent workers. However, according to a Rutgers study, this simply isn’t the case. On the other hand, the study found that women who took paid time off were more likely to be working again after just a year. These statistics beg the question: what can be done about giving women paid time off so they give their baby human the right start? Reforming our U.S. system is definitely something that needs to be considered. Simply put, these maternity leave challenges need to become a thing of the past in our country.

The U.S. has a long way to go to better protect working moms. Many families simply can’t afford to live on dad’s income alone, and many workers are single moms as well, with no choice but to work. With a little creativity and some luck, you may be able to work around the system, so you’ll have more bonding time with your baby and a longer maternity leave.

If you are having trouble with your maternity leave, contact us online or at 702-259-7777 today to arrange an initial consultation. We are here to help.

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