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Learning Center Experience
By Rachel Byers, PhD,
CPAPublished July 2016
Over the past 2 years there has been a wave of change
sweeping the U.S. workforce that relates to maternity leave benefits. Not only
has there been an increase in discussions on the issue, but companies and state
and local governments are leading the charge by expanding their parental leave
policies. Doing so has had the effect of highlighting the fact the U.S. is the only
country with an advanced economy that does not have a national requirement entitling
mothers to paid maternity leave (OECD, 2016). With the momentum as of late, it
will not come as a surprise if the U.S. sees a change at the federal level over time.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development’s (OECD) (2016) investigation of parental leave systems across OECD
and European Union countries, “on average…mothers are entitled to just less
than 18 weeks of paid maternity leave around childbirth” (p. 2). With no policy
at all mandating paid leave, the U.S. clearly falls short of our global
counterparts. A factsheet released by the Department of Labor (DOL) in 2015
notes that only 12% of the U.S. private sector workforce has access to paid
leave through their employer. Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act of
1993 (FMLA) is the reigning federal law on the topic. It requires that
employers hold jobs for covered employees, but not pay them, for up to 12 weeks
should the employee need to tend to a qualified family or medical issue
Recently, several companies, states, and municipalities have
taken it upon themselves to change their parental leave policies. Some companies have updated their policies to include or increase the time period for which their
employees receive paid maternity leave. The State of New York and the city of
San Francisco recently passed parental leave laws with never before seen time
limits (Milstein, 2016). Chris Lu, the Deputy Secretary of Labor, noted that in
March of 2016, Vermont became the fifth state to pass paid sick leave
legislation, joining Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and 24
local jurisdictions enjoying the benefits of paid sick leave policies (Lu,
It is important to note that paid leave can be beneficial to
the providing entity. The DOL factsheet notes, “Paid maternity leave can
increase female labor force participation…, which contributes to economic
growth” (DOL, 2015, p.2). Further, companies with expanded maternity leave have
indicated that offering paid leave has led to a decrease in onboarding costs
due to higher employee retention. “And according to Liz Schwab, a Google public
affairs manager, when the company increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18
weeks in 2008, the retention rate for new mothers increased by 50 percent” (Lu,
2016, p. 2).
As noted above, with the increased momentum driving the push
for more equitable benefits for expecting mothers, it may not come as a
surprise if the U.S. sees a change at the federal level in the future.
Department of Labor (DOL). (2015). DOL Factsheet:Paid Family
and Medical Leave. Retrieved from https://blog.dol.gov/2015/09/29/encouraging-progress-on-paid-leave/.
Lu, C. (2016). #LeadonLeave:
A Victory for Vermont Workers. Retrieved from https://blog.dol.gov/2016/03/09/leadonleave-a-victory-for-vermont-workers/
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD). (2016). Parental Leave Systems.
Retrieved from www.oecd.org/els/soc/PF2_1_Parental_leave_systems.pdf
Rachel Byers, PhD, CPA, is a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.
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