Paternity Leave, Should it be a Standard?
Offering new fathers, the option to take paternity leave from their workplace has been a topic in the business world for quite some time. While some companies do not have anything set in place, others have implemented policies that give new fathers time to spend with their new family members. Why is it that the United States doesn’t offer paid leave for parents? What’s the stigma behind it and why it being held up on the level of businesses, state governments and even our federal government? As a father, I feel that if I work hard for my company, they should work hard for me by allowing me precious time with my family. I hope that during the article I can open your eyes to how far behind The United States is from other nations with paid leave for new parents and the reasons why it so important.
Just so I can help you get familiar with my topic I’m going to give you some history, so you understand the journey of paid leave. Paid maternity has been around for much longer than paid paternity leave. Paid maternity leave has been a topic as early as the late 19th century when Germany implemented the first policy in the world. Germany’s forward-thinking idea was soon adopted by other countries. Almost all European countries had paid maternity leave by the 1940’s. In 1970’s paternity leave caught up after Sweden implemented new laws that paved a path for others to follow. By the 1990’s almost all European countries have implemented some form of paternity leave. There has been so much progress towards having for leave for new parents in all other countries except the United States. Finally, after years of trying to make something happen, in 1993, the 103rd Congress passed a law called the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. The Family Medical Leave act guarantees employees that fit a specific criterion 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work where their benefits will be maintained one time per year. “FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.” (103rd Congress, 1993) These employees are eligible for the birth of a newborn, adoption placement, care of immediate family member with a serious condition, and if the employee has a serious medical condition. There are many failures that FMLA had but it was a step towards getting the United States up to par with other countries.
Opponents to the having a federal paternity leave, or better represented as parental leave, are mainly economists, government finance agencies, and businesses. From the very conception of FMLA there was pushback from big business because they felt like it was the first step to the government gaining control over businesses. There are a couple obvious burdens that companies are going to have to take in to order for paid leave. First, they will need to continue to cover the benefits they offer their employee, such as healthcare and vacation and sick leave. Then they will have to cover the cost to either have a replacement trained for the absence of the employee. There have been three states that have implemented a paid parental leave, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. I’m going to use California as an example to the show the so-called burden big business were so afraid of. In California employees can receive 55% of their wages from a program funded by workers at a 1.2% payroll tax (Melamed, 70). The burden was pushed back onto the employee which minimalizes the cost to the company. California’s successful Paid Family Leave Act allows new parents to make up to $6,402 with a small burden, as reported by the California Employment Development Department, of an average of $30 per year per worker (Dishman,1)
Another state’s view of paid leave is quickly understood when New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken stated in a press conference, “Enough is enough!” (Chamber of Commerce, 1). This statement was put out after newly elected New Jersey Governor stated he wanted an expansion of states Family Medical Leave Act. The Chamber wants to improve the state’s affordability for current businesses and improve ways to attract new businesses, not go in the opposite direction. This doesn’t sound like the Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey has the interest of the employees but more the interests of the local businesses. I understand that without the business there is no work but on the same hand you need to consider that without dedicated happy workers, you will not be a successful business.
I work for a company that doesn’t offer paid leave, so I understand the struggle and want to have paid leave. December of last year, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I wanted to take time off more than anything else in the world, but I knew that I couldn’t take that time. I knew that if did it would be looked down upon from the superiors as well as my peers. I work in the predominately male industry in a state where the traditional male female roles are still adhered to. Ill get to more about those roles here shortly. If I took the 12 weeks that FMLA protected me for I would still absolutely have my job but that doesn’t mean I won’t get passed by for the next promotion or raise. I’m not alone by feeling these unspoken pressures from my job. It’s already been proven that women have a reduction in overall career earnings for taking reduced ours for family, in fact, women overall have a 9.8% decrease in pay (Miller, 4). A study out of the University of Oregon tracked 6,403 men to show that taking time off for family reason can reduce over all earnings. This study proved that they lost 15.5% over the course of their careers (Miller, 4). The stigma of taking time off runs heavy in many companies in this country and its shame that work life is expected to be put in front of family life. Bloomberg reports that 47% of fathers think that dads should take time off and of those only 14% take more than two weeks (Green, 1). Those are some pretty low numbers if you ask me. The benefits and rewards of having leave will far outweigh any regret a new parent will feel.
There are many companies out there that are changing the way they treat their employees. Progressive companies such as Amazon, Adobe, Facebook, and ZestFinance have great paid leave benefits, some of them up to 6 months (Dishman, 1). Small business owner and CEO, David Hassell, of 15Five has only 18 employee and offers paid leave for them all. He knows it’s the right thing to do and also knows that there will be hurdles they must jump in order to keep the business going. To quote Hassell, “these and other policies we have clearly communicate to our people that we really care about them, and as a result we have shockingly low turnover–so aren’t incurring the ongoing costs of having to find and replace many of our roles.” In the end, people just want to feel appreciated at work and know their work cares about them inside and outside of work. Family life and raising your children is the most important thing for those who want the government to have a mandated paid leave.
Women have been gaining more ground and more power at businesses over recent years. I work for a company that has a women CEO. Thirty years ago, when these laws were written it was a much different time and you didn’t see many women in higher power roles. Since then our society has changed as well as the roles that women play. “The evolving roles of men and women could eventually change workplace culture, he and other social scientists say. If more women play the breadwinner role and more men ask for family-friendly policies, it could become hard for employers to treat them differently on the basis of gender roles” (Miller, 2). There were two traditional roles our society was based on. First, you have the father; he is a working man that provides for his family. He goes to work every day to do his job and earn for the family. Second, you have the mother; she is the caregiver and homemaker of the family who takes care of the children and keeps the up the house.
These roles have slowly mixed together as more women have been going into the workforce. As the cost of living began to raise so did the need for more women to work. More women in the workforce allowed women to possibly become the family’s breadwinner. “Not only is this a discriminatory practice that leads to the denial of a man’s right to be treated equally to a woman under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,17 it also discriminates against women by perpetuating the gender stereotype that they are best fit to be home with their children and not in the workforce. This stereotype can lead to discrimination against women in the hiring and promotion practices of employers which amounts to a denial of their Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights” (Melamed, 55). Men and women are both stereotyped and discriminated against by the current system and until there is a change where both sides are treated fairly this topic will be prevalent.
The United States is the most powerful and glorious country in the world but when it comes to having a federal paid leave for parents our great nation just seems to fall short. We have had decent progress over the years to catch up to other nations. Congress has laid the ground work by implementing the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993 but little has been done since. The citizens need to stand up and make their voice be heard. With mid-term elections just ending, everyone should know their senator. I urge you to write your senator and ask them for their support. We need to do whatever we can to ensure our nation stays great and keeps moving in a direction that makes us proud. What will make me the proudest is that one day we can take a paid leave from work to spend the precious and once in a lifetime opportunity and spend time with out new family member.
103rd Congress, “U.S. Department of Labor.” FMLA (Family & Medical Leave), 103rd Congress, www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.
Chamber Press Office, NJ. “NJ Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken’s Statement on Paid Family Leave Legislation.” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, 14 May 2018, www.njchamber.com/press-releases/538-nj-chamber-of-commerce-president-tom-bracken-s-statement-on-paid-family-leave-legislation.
Coltrane, Scott. “The Risky Business of Paternity Leave.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Jan. 2014, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/the-risky-business-or-paternity-leave/282688/.
Devlin, Dory, “What Would it Cost to Have Mandatory, Paid Parental Leave?” Fortune, Fortune, 5 Feb, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/02/05/paid-parental-leave-costs/.
Dishman, Lydia. “The Real Cost of Paid Parental Leave for Business.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 29 Jan. 2016, www.fastcompany.com/3055977/the-real-cost-of-paid-parental-leave-for-business.
Green, Jeff. “Dads Say They Deserve Parental Leave but Only in Theory.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 18 Apr. 2018, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-18/dads-say-they-deserve-parental-leave-even-if-they-don-t-take-it.
Hall, Jason. “Why Men Don’t Take Paternity Leave.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 June 2013, www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/06/14/why-men-dont-take-paternity-leave/#341749431bd7.
Melamed, Abraham Z. “DADDY WARRIORS The Battle To Equalize Paternity Leave In The United States By Breaking Gender Stereotypes: A Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Analysis.” UCLA Women’s Law Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, Spring 2014, pp. 53–87. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=111083033&site=ehost-live.
Miller, Claire Cain. “Paternity Leave: The Rewards and the Remaining Stigma.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Nov. 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/upshot/paternity-leave-the-rewards-and-the-remaining-stigma.html.
Zagorsky, Jay L. “Divergent Trends in US Maternity and Paternity Leave, 1994-2015.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 460–465. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303607.