Thursday, 1 July 2010

Maternity Leave

Read this: We Can Afford to Give Parents a Break

I am constantly amazed at how little regulation exists in the USA regarding the workplace. Most people are probably aware that American workers get less time off than their counterparts in Europe. In fact there is no federal legislation that requires businesses to give their employees paid vacation. I know a lady whose boss recently announced that nobody would get any more holiday - not Fourth of July, not Christmas, nothing. Difficult as it is to believe this is legal (far less in any way sensible) there is nothing you can do in such a situation but quit.

Sometimes this lack of holiday is explained in terms such as these: Americans opted for material goods over vacation time, so they have a better standard of living despite only getting long weekends off. It's true that many Americans live in bigger houses, drive bigger cars and watch bigger TVs than the average Brit. And they do, indeed, work to pay for all these things. Yet any "choice" in the matter was made years ago. If you want a job you have to work within the system, and there aren't too many places around offering 2 weeks' extra paid holiday in exchange for a smaller car. So you might as well take the big car and make your commute to work that little bit nicer.

But vacation entitlement (which is, after all, technically a luxury) pales into insignificance beside the lack of sick leave and maternity leave highlighted in this article. Let's compare the figures. If you get pregnant in the USA you have a grand total of 12 weeks' leave to play with, says the government. If you have pregnancy complications and have to take time off, that comes out of your 12 weeks. If your baby gets sick after you go back to work and you take time off, that comes out of the 12 weeks. Even if everything goes entirely smoothly and you take all of it as maternity leave, once your child turns three months old, they will just have to cope without you. And pay? Well, only if your company feels generous. Otherwise you just better hope to have some savings in the bank. Oh, and if you got a new job just before you found out you were pregnant, or only work for a small company, or only work part-time, none of this applies. Sorry.

So if you get pregnant in the UK? You're entitled to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave plus 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave - that's one full year! Assuming you've worked for your employer for 6 months, you get 90% of your regular pay for the first 6 weeks, then at least £124 per week for the next 33 weeks. OK, not riches, but certainly something. Dad is probably entitled to a couple of weeks, as well, and you have 13 unpaid weeks to take off if you need it before your child is five.

The sad thing for the Americans is that it's not the UK that's unusual. It's America. Were it the other way around, the US might have a case in arguing that such liberal benefits are uneconomical. But when most of the rest of the world finds a way to do it, you really haven't got a leg to stand on. I was struck by Jody Heymann's phrase: "a unique private-sector experiment". This is pretty much what America is. Somehow in this country there has developed such a fear of socialism and governmental control that almost everything is down to the individual. If you can work your way up and pay your way, great. If for some reason you can't, you're reliant on the generosity of private companies, private charities or private individuals. And most companies are too busy making money to be particularly generous.

Well, I'm on the lucky side. I have a husband who is able and willing to support myself and our baby, and who even gets a week's paternity leave to help out. I won't be faced with the choice of having to farm a tiny infant out to expensive daycare or losing my job. Millions of others aren't so fortunate. Come on America - give your employees a break!

1 comment:

Kristal Dawn Evens said...

Well said sis! It really is appalling...