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Elizabeth is an executive at a major national retailer in her sixth month of pregnancy. She is feeling absolutely great and starting to put her maternity leave plan together. Her company's paid maternity leave is based on years of service, and she is one year shy of the -ten--year bonus of extra time off. She's earned eight weeks of paid maternity and two weeks at half-pay. If she has a C-section she will get an extra two weeks pay.
She has four weeks of vacation and plans to use those as a backup if she's not ready, but right now she's planning to come back when the ten weeks are up. She's recently been promoted, so she plans to be available to the staff during her leave. She had a bad experience when one of her colleagues chose "radio silence" as her maternity leave plan, so she plans to be as accessible as she needs to be.
Elizabeth has done everything to ensure that she will have a smooth maternity leave, including planning her delivery to coincide with the quietest time in retail, January. She is planning to be back in the office when things kick off in March. She's hired an additional person to support her number two while she's out and she's hoping for the best.
She does have a few worries, though. Her husband would prefer that she didn't return to work, so she knows there will be a few struggles in the beginning, and second, and wisely, she realizes that she has no idea how she's going to feel and what's going to happen after the baby is born, so her biggest plan is to take a "wait-and-see" attitude. She's planned as much as she can and she's hoping for the best.
the paid-leave squeeze
The United States has the worst record on paid parental leave of all of the developed nations. Our country still operates on the 1950s model of father in the workforce and mother home raising the children. There's no easy answer. As mothers, we see the necessity of paid leave for new mothers, fathers, or caregivers. As business owners, we can't take on the financial load of paying for extended maternity leave without government or employee subsidy. If the law required us to pay fifty-two weeks of maternity leave as they do in the United Kingdom, we'd be out of business. At our small company, we can't afford to pay someone who is not working.
Help is on the way. As of September 2008, California, Washington, and New Jersey have passed "paid-leave" bills and there are movements in a handful of other states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon, to implement paid leave. Many -paid--leave advocates are lobbying for time off with pay to be a federal law and program.
A bill introduced in the House in 2008 by Representative Fortney Stark (D-California) would mandate twelve weeks of paid leave. The legislation would be funded by a new federal trust fund. Employers (only companies with fifty or more employees) and employees would pay into this fund equally through payroll deductions, similar to unemployment benefits. A bipartisan bill in the Senate sponsored by senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) calls for eight weeks of paid family leave within a one-year period. Benefits would be paid out on a tiered system, depending on salary.
The paid-leave program in California piggybacks on the state's disability program and is 100 percent funded by the employees themselves at an annual average cost of about $47, depending on salary. Californians who opt-in to the program get 55 percent of their pay while on family leave. Who wouldn't trade $47 dollars per year for twelve weeks of paid leave even at half-pay?
These are small gains for the U.S. worker as compared to other countries around the world. Take Canada. According to Wikipedia, in 2000, parental leave was expanded in Canada from ten weeks to thirty-five weeks, divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to fifteen weeks maternity leave, giving a total possible period of fifty weeks paid leave for a mother. There is still no paid leave for new fathers, however. In Canada, maternity and parental leave is paid for by their employment insurance system.
Posted January 28, 2011