If you live in America and are planning to have a baby, prepare your wallet.
The recent changes in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) have caused some stir among critics who claim that further expanding this program of unpaid family leave will endanger the U.S. economy. In reviewing the new additions for military families and other proposed expansions, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about.
Paid maternity leave is still not a standard benefit like it is in most of the world. In many European countries and in Canada, new moms receive paid benefits from the government and/or their employer and are entitled to paid time off in order to stay home with the new baby for the first months.
While some U.S. employers have chosen to go the extra mile and pay some benefits to new moms, they usually only pay a percentage of the salary and then only up to six weeks. Many working moms are forced to return to work after 6-12 weeks (sometimes sooner) with no pay for their very brief recovery time. Only 8% of employers provide over 12 weeks of paid leave for new mom. Almost all need to make arrangements for someone else to care for their new baby.
In June of 2007, Senate Bill 1681, entitled the Family Leave Insurance Act of 2007 was introduced, but has not yet emerged from committee. This bill, if passed, would provide up to 8 weeks of paid leave to new parents. While this would still be far less than current maternity benefits levels provided in many other countries, and less than medical professionals now recommend for full recovery and optimal infant health, it would be a step in the right direction.
California, New York and a few other states have constructed plans to use disability funds to pay maternity leave, but hopefully a unified program could be enacted for all 50 states to simplify administration for HR departments in multi-state entities.
I hope that corporations and governments will recognize that children are the future of this country. Like other industrialized companies, the U.S. business community could create a program that will allow new moms to provide the proper care needed in the first months of the baby’s life without worrying about the financial hardship that the situation can cause. But the reality is that so far no major changes are on the horizon.
But even in the absence of legislation, as HR professionals and trainers, might it not be within our area of responsibility to look at providing realistic benefits for new moms as they recover from childbirth and bond with their newborns?
If a cost benefit analysis is needed, salary expenses incurred during the leave would be more than offset by lower medical expenses for mom and baby, increased employee loyalty, increased retention of experienced staff (with savings on hiring, training and the learning curve time for new employees) and a more attractive company profile for other professionals who want to combine motherhood with career. Paid leave programs could be combined with increased telecommuting options after the initial recovery period, flex-schedules, part-time professional tracks for the young family years, and job sharing.