Maternity, Parental, and Family Leave: Exploring Inequities

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No doubt your employer has a leave policy. You may have spent serious time sifting through your employee handbook trying to figure out what your options are, just in case there is the slightest chance you would ever feel empowered to take a paid or even unpaid leave. You have some sick days coming. You have accumulated many days of vacation. And if you and your partner start a family, there could be a few weeks of paid leave granted followed by unpaid leave with some assurance that you will have a job when you return. But what if you are single and will never need to take a parental leave? What if your family obligations are not centered on children but rather an elderly parent? What if you have no obligations and would simply like to get out of the office every few years for a set amount of time for uninterrupted leisure? Chances are, you wouldn’t take a leave even if you were told you could by your human resources department.

There are many, many problems with leave policies in the United States. Let’s look at three:

  • Leaves of absence differ among organizations and even within various locations of the same company due to state or local laws as well as corporate culture and local management’s willingness to welcome leave requests. Sadly, in comparison to other countries, we as a nation don’t encourage time-off. Our collective view of what leaves are, why they are needed, and how they can be administered must be completely disrupted.
  • Federal and state laws in the United States have defined leaves for certain categories of protected classes. Leaves are usually intended for employees starting families and time off is granted to primary and sometimes secondary caregivers of a new child. Medical leaves are granted to those dealing with their own serious but well-documented illnesses. Leaves are rarely carved out for single employees with no obvious family obligations or disability issues. The 21st Century is seeing an enormous increase in singletons and company leave policies need to reflect the trend.
  • Few employees take the full amount of any particular leave for fear of some kind of detrimental action, including job loss. Participating in a leave or even working reduced hours is viewed as a sure path down the career ladder. Studies clearly show women are more likely to face unfair bias when taking a leave or when working reduced or flexible hours. As there should be absolutely no gender stigma regarding leaves, there should be no other distinction made, and we must innovate how leaves are structured. Our culture must embrace the concept that a leave of absence is of benefit to a company’s employees and brings substantial value in the form of loyalty, productivity, and increased creativity.

Corporations spend a great deal of money marketing benefits. They pay human resource executives handsome salaries to develop, promote, and monitor policies. With leaves, however, it is time to start from scratch and overhaul a system that clearly isn’t working. Let’s drop our current leave policies and create something wonderful for employee and employer alike.