I am preparing for a trial next month in a case in which my client's employer fired her while she was out on maternity leave. So I have been spending some time this week reading and exploring the web to find out what people are thinking and talking about right now with regards to pregnancy and work.
Came across an interview with Sharon Lerner, the author of "The War on Moms." She has an interesting take on the state of maternity leave laws in the U.S. Her focus is not so much on the "choice" of continuing work or staying home after having a baby. Instead she focuses on the practical context in which most women have to make that choice: economic pressure, social expectations, etc. and she reaches the conclusion that many. . . or even most women don't feel like they have much of a choice at all.
In an interesting bit of the interview Ms. Lerner discusses her thoughts on the state of maternity leave in the U.S.:
"We don’t have paid leave. Our unpaid leave only applies to half the private sector workforce and many of those people can’t take it because they can’t afford to take it. And yet, this situation makes us an outlier in the world. We’re the only industrialized nation without paid leave. And we are one of the tiny handful of countries that don’t have it. And still there’s all this resistance. I just got done with this radio interviewer, a male interviewer, who said something like, “my wife stayed home and that’s a good model.” People are very defensive about our model, which in the international context is really nothing. Because we don’t have paid leave and because so many people can’t afford unpaid leave, we have the majority of working women going back to work before 12 weeks. They’re going back five weeks and four weeks and three weeks — sometimes days after giving birth. How are they doing that? Days after birth, you’re not sitting up, you’re nursing all the time, you’re not smiling.
I think we’re just used to the way it is in our country. We’re sort of nose to the grindstone just enduring in a way that doesn’t allow us to pick our heads up and look around and say “wow, it doesn’t have to be this way."
Surprised that we are the only industrialized nation that provides absolutely no paid maternity leave? It's true.
We like to think of ourselves in this country as "family-friendly." We talk endlessly about "family values." But here is a really obvious area where I think we, as a nation, fall short in our support for families.
What's the solution? Well, in Sweden, they get 18 months off, paid. After that, they’re entitled to work part-time until that child is 8. They also have a month of use-it-or-lose-it time, which is for fathers. The 18 months can be split between men and women. That other month can’t be split; if the father doesn’t take it it goes away.
The Swedish model sounds exceedingly generous to me and is very possibly too expensive for a country as large and economically diversified as the U.S. to implement. Sweden represents one end of the spectrum. The U.S., unfortunately, represents the other extreme.
Surely there must be a middle ground that would allow us to support families and newborns without unduly harming the economy.
Want to read more?
Here is a link to the full interview of Ms. Lerner on the Strollerderby Blog.
Here is a link to Ms. Lerner's Book on Amazon.