The topic of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is a sore spot of disappointment for many a new mother and pregnant employee. Unfortunately, a maternity policy requiring pay for maternity leave doesn't exist on a federal level in the United States. When we examine this matter, it forces us to acknowledge the continued lack of progress by our government on a much-needed national U.S. Maternal Healthcare Policy; that should include both statutory maternity pay and statutory maternity Leave.
We ushered in 2018 with the United States still sharing the not-so-glamorous spotlight with the countries of Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea all of which do not require paid maternity leave by law; that means no pregnant employee is entitles to time off or pay by law. I find it truly shameful and embarrassing. In the 1990s, the U.S. had the sixth-highest female labor force participation rate among 22 nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); by 2010, the US ranked 17th. This significant reversal has been attributed to the U.S.’s lack of family-friendly policies, such as no mandatory paid family leave.
I have been fortunate to live in five countries that have national maternity policies and still successfully participates, and thrives, in the global economy. From 1994–2012, I lived abroad, studying and working in Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. In each of these countries expecting and new mothers and their families are protected by their government with federal maternity policies. Bringing a child into the world does not carry the financial pressure or burden like it does in the United States. Women are guaranteed maternity leave and pay. It is eye-opening when we compare the U.S.'s maternity policy—or lackthereof—to such countries. But we must do that to highlight what we don’t have—a law requiring maternity leave and pay for new and expecting mother—in the United States and the benchmarks our government needs to target.
What is Statutory Maternity Pay?
The widely accepted definition of statutory maternity pay is the referral to the eligible salary and benefits an expecting mother and her family receive prior to or after the birth or adoption of a child. Below are the most updated statutory maternity pay and leave benefits of the United Kingdom.
Statutory Maternity Pay in the U.K.
Employees are paid for 39 weeks at two rates. During the first six weeks, the employee receive 90% of her average weekly earnings before tax. The average weekly earnings are calculated from the pay received in the eight weeks or two months up to the last pay day before the end of the qualifying week. During the remaining 33 weeks, she receives a flat rate of £140.98 per week or 90% of the average earnings—whichever is lower.
An employer pays this maternity benefit in the same way as an employee’s salary is paid, including tax and national insurance deductions. However, an employer can claim most or all of an employee’s statutory maternity pay back from HM Revenue and Customs.
Statutory Maternity Leave in the U.K.
Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is known as "Ordinary Maternity Leave," and the last 26 weeks as "Additional Maternity Leave." The earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, unless the baby is born early. Employees must take at least 2 weeks after the birth (or 4 weeks if employed by a factory).
Maternity Benefits in the U.S.
The only law that exists in the U.S is limited, unpaid, job-protection via the Family Medical Leave Act (FLMA). This act, the first and only national leave law, which has reached its 25th anniversary, was signed by President Clinton in February 1993. This “entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.” It provides an expecting mother 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid, maternity leave, for which many workers. FLMA pertains to situations of having or adopting a baby, taking care of a sick family member, or a family’s military service—essentially, a situation that creates a need to spend time away from work. In order to qualify for maternity leave, employees must work in a firm of 50 or more employees, maintain employment with the same business for 12 months, and have accumulated at least 1,250 working hours over those 12 months.
Only 12% of U.S. non-government workers have access to paid family leave, according to the Department of Labor. Fewer than 40% of private-sector workers participate in short-term disability insurance, which provides some income for six to eight weeks during maternity leave. Short-term disability is a type of coverage that pays salary, or a portion of it, for a certain number of weeks because of medically related needs. Larger companies frequently include this benefit, and some states mandate requiring it in employee benefits. This insurance may be purchased separately from a local insurance provider. However, the percentage of salary paid and the length of time of coverage vary and can be affected due to complicated child birth (i.e. cesarean delivery), so it is important to confirm what each policy covers before purchasing. Typically, an expecting mother pieces together a combination of short-term disability benefits with personal, vacation, or sick pay to have some income during her maternity leave and before her return to work.
The White House included a family leave plan in its 2019 budget proposal released earlier this month that aims to provide new parents with six weeks of paid leave. The budget doesn't specify exactly how the benefit would work, but states the current unemployment insurance system, which workers and employers pay into and states administer, would serve "as a base." Adoptive parents would also be eligible for the paid leave. Under the White House plan, states would be responsible for creating their own individual parental pay and leave programs. This has been opposed by several organizations, since parents would be required to use their retirement funds to access parental leave, asking women and low-income families to work longer to get leave for child birth. Caregivers and those needing medical leave would not be covered at all. Also, it would require using Social Security without creating any support or funding that the program would require.
States with Paid Leave as of February 2018
Maternity benefits including pay and leave should be examined on an employer level—government and non-government. However, the following five states and one territory have already implemented a partially-paid maternity benefit. Below, we list the number of weeks new mothers are entitled to receive this partial-pay benefit before they return to work:
New York : 2018—8 weeks; 2019–2020: 10 weeks; 2021—12 weeks.
District of Columbia: 8 weeks
New Jersey: 6 weeks
Rhode Island: 4 weeks.
California: 10–12 weeks.
Washington: 2019—12 weeks; 2020—18 weeks.
In January 2018, President Trump signed a memorandum entitled, "Modernizing Federal Leave Policies for Childbirth, Adoption, and Foster Care to Recruit and Retain Talent and Improve Productivity." It directs agencies to advance Federal workers up to six weeks paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family member. In his 2018 State of the Union address, the president also called on Congress to enact legislation to provide federal workers with up to six weeks of paid parental leave; currently there are approximately 900,00 female employees.
The Department of Defense is comprised of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard with 1.7 million men and women on active duty and women accounting for 15.6% (201,318). The number of annual births for active women is between, 15,000–16,000, with approximately 55% of the active duty soldiers having a dependent spouse and/or child. The DOD offers 12 weeks of paid, maternity leave.
The Changes in Paid Maternity Leave Policies in the Public and Private Sectors
Over the past two years there has been a significant focus on maternity leave, paternity leave, and parental pay policies in the United States. Several companies in the private sector have now offer six to 52 weeks of paid parental leave. This is also a strategic move to attract and keep top talent.
Change is in the Air: Dynamic Advocating Organizations Changing the Landscape
“We need to right this wrong in society and make business and family equally important. We value our families, so let’s economically value them as a country, says Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Paid family leave is a rapidly growing trend in businesses across the country, with proven benefits to employers, families, and our economy,” says PL + US (Paid Leave for the United States) one of the dynamic, organizations leading the charge in advocating for paid family leave in the United States. The organization works with corporate management and employees across America advocating for change. They team up with leading organizations such as the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on public policies for women and families. Together these organizations have been advocating and presenting before Congress and the Senate for a 12-week, paid Maternity Health Policy.
Momentum is building in the fight for paid family leave in the United States and how that will look is beginning to take shape with a collective participation of the private sector, state and government. Pressure needs to be kept on the correct people and organizations that have influence in Washington.
Valerie Lynn is a Traditional Feminine Healthcare Expert specializing in Postnatal Recovery as well as author of, The Mommy Plan, Restoring Your Post-Pregnancy Body, Using Women’s Traditional Wisdom and the cookbook Healing Meals: Simple Recipes for New Moms (Q1-2018). Valerie has lived, worked and conducted research in Japan, the U.K., Australia and Indonesia. Her coaching practice in New York City supports expecting mothers and their families guiding them through a new mother’s recovery based on the most holistic and effective after birth recovery program in the world with success rates of 97%. Her exclusive seminar, Optimizing Maternity Leave: A Roadmap to Post-Pregnancy Recovery is gaining recognition in the public and private sectors. The objective of her work and the seminar is for every new mother to create her own individualized, systematic, daily 6-Week & Beyond Post-Pregnancy Recovery & Recuperation Plan starting from Day 1, Birth Day; encompassing new nutritional needs, diet and meals, personal care, body care, activities and maternal mental health needs. Having a Recovery Plan in place ensures a systematic and progressive healing and recovery takes place during the Healing Window of Opportunity that every woman has naturally but doesn’t benefit from.