Being entitled to time off of work when a child is born is not something that companies in 2022 are on board with. Take for example a young couple in Alamance County having their first child. The new mother, for the sake of this article we will call her Mary, age 19, working for a well known electronics company and the father, whom we will call Joseph, age 22 working for a food products supply company. When asked about their employers allowing time off, Mary indicated that upon entering her fourth month of pregnancy she was met with discordance from management. Joseph indicated that his place of employment placed him on a points system after the fourth month of their pregnancy for being late to work. He also indicated that he never went through the human resource department and went through his direct manager to request time off and to inform when he would be late as he and Mary were expecting their first child in July of 2022.
Mary indicated that because her place of employment was unwilling to accommodate her in more than one way during her early pregnancy she decided it was in her best interest that she resign. This choice removed a form of income for this growing family but with family on their side helping in many ways they were able to stay afloat.
It is stories like this that shed light on the imbalance of having paid maternity and paternity leave in industries such as food and retail. These workers are disproportionately ineligible for current federal and state leave policies and face more barriers accessing benefits even when/if they are eligible. FMLA guarantees eligible workers the right to unpaid time off with job protection for up to twelve weeks however, many people cannot afford to take unpaid leave and many don’t even qualify for its benefits such as smaller employers and many part-time workers.
Paid maternity and parental leave benefits business by improving retention and productivity and boosting labor force participation. The benefits of paid leave are well documented. Providing new parents with paid time off to care for a newborn, multiple babies or recently adopted children contributes to healthy development, it improves maternal health, and enhances families economic security. It lets workers care for themselves and loved ones and yet again reduces that financial insecurity and stress during what should be a happy time.
When I asked Mary and Joseph how this whole experience affected them, their response was that if they had not had the support of their extended family near to help them they are not sure they would have been able to do it alone. Joseph works third shift and he says he greatly missed bonding time with his son and being there for Mary at doctors appointments early on and even now. He says he wishes he could have supported her more than by just being the financial support as they recall the struggles she dealt with upon returning home 3 days after childbirth as Mary had to have an emergency c-section.
Only 21% of US workers have access to paid parental leave through employers. America just doesn’t seem to be family friendly, yet. There is yet to be a balance between work commitments and family commitment. Leaving the decision up to each state appears to be careless. 184 countries provide parental leave, 71 out of the 184 provide paid parental leave. The top 3 countries for maternity leave, 1-Estonia, 2-Hungary, 3-Bulgaria. Estonia offering 85 weeks, Hungary offering 72 weeks and Bulgaria offering 65 weeks. The top 3 countries for paternity leave, 1-Japan, 2-Republic of Korea, 3-Portugal. Japan offering 30.4 weeks, Republic of Korea offering 17.2 weeks and Portugal offering 12.5 weeks.
Parental leave should be expected in the workplace regardless of the industry. It gives way for familial support from both parents. Fathers would like to be more than financial support, they want the opportunity to form connections with their children and partners.
Cassie Brenker is a wife, mother and friend. She is a freelance writer and has also worked in the customer service industry for 10 years. She is a strong believer in live and let live, and believes the world could benefit from a huge dose of kindness.
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