On January 10, 2019, California's governor, Gavin Newsom, proposed a major upgrade to expand the state’s 2002 California Paid Family Leave Program, which currently provides up to six weeks of partial pay, to providing new parents with six months of partial-paid leave allowing them more time to welcome and bond with their new babies -- the most generous policy in the nation. Gov. Gavin Newsom described his proposal as a "no-damn-brainer," and stated “We're committed to a six-month paid sick leave system. Why? For no other reason than it's a developmental necessity."
The California's Assembly Budget Committee and state senate have until June 15 to review and vote on the proposal and if passed, Newsom's proposal would set a precedent in the United States.
The idea of implanting a national paid-leave plan in the United States is also making headway. In fact, it was included in the Trump administration's 2019 budget. This proposal calls for six weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers. However, despite the broad support for paid leave, a Pew Research Center (www.pewsocialtrends.org) survey conducted Jan. 4-9, 2017, about the public’s policy priorities for President Donald Trump and Congress in the coming year finds that relatively few Americans (35%) see expanding access to paid family and medical leave as a top policy priority. In fact, expanding access to paid family and medical leave ranks at the bottom of a list of 21 policy items, along with improving transportation and dealing with drug addiction.
It’s about time we try to make an improvement in this benefit. As reflected in the 2016 study performed by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (see below), the US is at a competitive disadvantage, ranking last in maternity leave in an analysis of 42 countries. The best countries were all European with Bulgaria leading at just under 59 weeks of paid leave. The UK provides a whole year (52 weeks) of maternity leave. However, 39 of those weeks are partially paid.
In Mary Beth Ferrante’s Jan 10, 2019, article on Forbes "In The Fight For Paid Parental Leave, 6 Months Should Be The Minimum" (https://www.forbes.com/sites/marybethferrante/2019/01/10/), they examined the top 70 corporations on how they fared with paid parental leave. They found that most companies “are doing their best to either implement or repair years of unjust policies surrounding paid leave, others are doing the bare minimum.” As Ferrante notes “It takes the human body 40 weeks to birth a full-term baby. And in that time, women are expected to keep working (sometimes at the expense of their bodies and babies), and carry on with life as though the multitude of pregnancy symptoms aren’t distracting and at times, downright debilitating.” And I might note, fully recovering from pregnancy and childbirth can take months. While many women feel mostly recovered by 6-8 weeks, it may take longer than this to feel like yourself again. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research shows that after giving birth, 1 in 9 women experience postpartum depression, sleep deprivation and difficulty managing breast-feeding.
Pew Research Center cites that the financial concerns top the list of reasons why those who took leave for parental, family or medical reasons say they took less time off than they needed or wanted to. About seven-in-ten (69%) leave takers who returned to work more quickly than they would have liked to say they couldn’t afford to lose more wages or salary. About half (47%) say they thought they might risk losing their job. About a third thought taking more time off might hurt their chances for job advancement (34%) or felt that no one else was capable of doing their job (33%). And about a quarter (23%) of those who took less time off than they had needed or wanted to say their employer denied their request for more time off (www.pewsocialtrends.org).
With women’s labor force participation rates largely rising across the globe (which bodes well for women, children, families, and society), progress is clearly very uneven, and rates have even plateaued in the US. Family-friendly policies represent one lever that can be used to increase women’s participation and facilitate women’s labor force participation and career advancement.
With families being different today it is high time that workplace policies start to reflect the way our families live today, rather than remaining rooted in outdated notions of what a family is “supposed” to look like. Expanding the paid family and medical leave program would be a good first step in bringing the United States up to par relative to other nations’ labor standards. And as Ferrante noted “Companies must respond responsibly; do the right thing, and draft better paid leave policies, if they seek to retain top talent. When paid family leave policies do not reflect the values of their employees, those employees will find more family-friendly options elsewhere.”
We’ll keep you posted after the California's Assembly Budget Committee and state senate review and vote on June 15.