It is estimated that more than 110,000 children will be born in the state of Michigan in the next year. While pregnancy and the welcoming of a new baby are arguably considered the most joyful time for new parents, this celebration can be clouded by the imminent requirement to abruptly return to the workplace. This added stress not only affects the overall morale of the new family, but also becomes a fiscal burden on the parents of the new child and could impact the health of both the mother and the newborn child. While in a perfect world, work stress and financial obligation would be at the back of new mom’s and dad’s thoughts, the reality of the situation strikes almost immediately.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 governs the amount and kind of leave available for not only new parents, but for those suffering from serious illness, injury or having a loved one with similar circumstance. According to the FMLA, qualifying workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. To qualify for these 12 weeks, one must have 12 months of employment at the company (does not have to be consecutive) and 1250 hours of work at the establishment in the last 12 months. Only one 12 week period is granted per year under FMLA. Even with these provisions, still in America FMLA only covers roughly 59% of workers in the U.S. and a significant amount of those that qualify do not take the leave offered because of the financial burdens of day-to-day life (not being able to take time off without pay).
The allotted time in the FMLA is short of what doctors recommend before a mother and child experience separation. When FMLA was originally introduced pediatricians and child experts recommended that 6 months would be an ideal allotment considering adjustments, breastfeeding, and overall bonding and attachment between a child and parent. During the legislative process, this time dwindled drastically to the current 12 weeks unpaid leave. This is still in place, more than 20 years after FMLA passed.
Compared to other developed countries, the United States has the least generous benefits. For example, the United Kingdom gives 52 weeks of leave with a significant amount of time off being partial paid leave, France grants 16 weeks of full-wage-paid leave, and Sweden awards 420 total days, 80% of their salary covered during a large portion of that time.
On the other hand, statewide leave can be “upgraded” from the minimum terms required of FMLA as long as they are initially met. Many states choose not to add on to these minimum requirements, including Michigan. In a recent study about states and their laws to help new parents and families, Michigan received an “F” grade. States such as California, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Jersey received marks of a “B+” or higher, for their additional benefits and protection such as paid leave, flexible use of sick time, job-protection, and pregnancy accommodations. Overall the argument for better leave regulations stems from the strength that not only mothers receive, but fathers and families overall receive from such protections.
Currently in the Michigan Legislature, legislation has been introduced that would mandate paid sick leave for Michigan workers. In the legislation, it would require employers to grant 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. For the average Michigan worker, this would add up to somewhere around 7-9 days a year depending on how many hours worked by the employee. An argument against this legislation is the belief that regulations such as this hinder the creation of new employment, needed in Michigan. While this controversial legislation is not completely pertinent to the issue of maternal/paternal leave, it raises important and relevant questions. While regulation may not be the answer, this is a topic that will inevitably need to be addressed, especially considering our standing amongst other states and countries.
Currently the prospects for reforming maternal/paternal leave in Michigan look dismal. With Michigan attempting to compete with other states to attract business and economic development, the limited state effort concerning maternal/paternal leave puts the state at a disadvantage. If we want to be a serious competitor in the country and still maintain our focus on the family, this is an important step to consider.
Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents. (2014, June 1). Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/expecting-better-2014.pdf
Lawler, E. (2015, February 5). Standard full-time Michigan worker would get 8.7 sick days per year under Democratic legislation. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2015/02/standard_full-time_michigan_wo.html
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Ruiz, R. (2015, January 25). America's 12-week maternity policy has nothing to do with families. Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://mashable.com/2015/01/25/maternity-leave-policy-united-states/
Wage and Hour Division (WHD). (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
Worst And Best Countries For Maternity Leave. (2012, May 22). Retrieved March 9, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/22/maternity-leaves-around-the-world_n_1536120.html