For many women, maternity leave laws in the United States can come as a bit of a shock. It’s only after they become pregnant that some women learn they are not guaranteed any pay during their maternity leave. In fact, only if they are so lucky as to work for an employer who voluntarily offers paid family leave is it at all likely that they will get any money coming in at an especially sensitive time in their lives.
What we’ve just described is true overall, but there are some important exceptions. While the federal law that protects your job and requires employers give you time off after having a baby, there are a number of progressive states and municipalities (e.g. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, the City of Boston, Washington D.C. and soon-to-be New York State) where employees benefit from a state-tax or payroll-funded short-term disability policy that applies to pregnant and new mothers. In short, if you work in these places, you’ll be able to take some money home for at least a few weeks after you have a baby.
While this is frustrating to women who don’t necessarily live in these areas, it’s also something that businesses don’t particularly like either. On Tuesday, the HR Policy Organization, a trade organization representing chief human resources officers of over 380 large domestic and international corporations, put out a report arguing for more uniformity in paid leave policies should apply to them should a federal paid family leave law pass.
Specifically, they argue in their report, “Companies already providing generous paid leave benefits should have a federal safe harbor from being hampered by the varying requirements of state and local leave mandates.” The argument seems to be that if they do business in multiple jurisdictions and already offer generous paid family leave (or become required to offer paid leave according to a new federal paid leave policy), they should be administering a uniform benefit to their employees.
Proponents of this approach cite the cost of doing business in multiple jurisdiction and argue that a single, coherent policy is better than a piecemeal one. On the other hand, critics such as Ellen Bravo of Families Value at Work, have told Bloomberg that “This is creating a ‘safe harbor’ for the largest corporations at the expense of financial security for families.”
As American women, we unfortunately do live in a world where whether we get paid during maternity leave depends on where you work (both in terms of your company as well as your physical work location). This situation is something that some federal policy makers have been trying to improve for at least a few decades.
Most recently, we wrote about one of the pending Congressional bills offering paid family leave as a new national policy. Though paid family leave was a campaign issue for the 2016 Presidential election, the issue hasn’t come to the forefront of Congressional and public attention compared to some other policy issues such as healthcare and tax reform. We’ll be watching this space closely and reporting more as developments occur for paid family leave on the national legislative front.
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