Paid Maternity Leave Policy: Critical Essay

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Paid maternity leave is a fairly new topic, specifically within the United States. Less than sixty years ago, women were still largely considered as inferior to men in the workplace and were denied opportunities and jobs based off that fact. A considerable portion of women still took the stereotypical role of the ‘homemaker’, while the men brought in the income. A part of this discrimination was because of a woman’s ability to have children, and thus not be able to put in the amount or quality of work a man could. The Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act from the 1960s started the campaign for equal rights among men and women and allowed women to be able to participate in the workforce. Paid maternity leave, being compensated while on leave from work after giving birth or adopting, is a system already set up in several developed countries, but not in the United States. A periodical titled ‘A Plan for Parental Leave’ by Abby M. McCloskey from National Review states: “Lack of paid leave is a problem especially for low-income mothers, single mothers, and for the four in ten American mothers who are their household’s main breadwinner, according to Pew Research Center” (par.5). Stakeholders in this issue include political parties, law-making bodies, and political organizations. Different aspects of paid maternity leave can be looked at scientifically, socially, economically, and historically/politically. Scientifically, the relationship between mother, child, and length of leave can be evaluated, while economically, the effects of monetary compensation for non-working mothers can be analyzed. Politically/historically, maternity leave has become a debated topic for how past laws and regulations should be updated to today’s standards. This forms the question of to what extent should companies offer paid maternity leave in the United States.

The first legislative decision in the U.S. regarding pregnancy in the workforce is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. A periodical, written by Jay Starkman and Camille Cooper titled ‘Avoiding Pregnancy Discrimination’ and published in Workforce, a multimedia publication providing information on business strategy and people management, explains: “The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it makes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unlawful” (par.4). In relation to maternity leave, this law outlines that employers are not permitted to require special procedures specifically for pregnant women when deciding their capabilities of doing work. For example, a worker affected by pregnancy does not have to submit a doctor’s note describing their limitations in work if other employees experiencing different disabilities are not required to by the employer (Starkman). However, there have been judiciary problems because of the ambiguous phrasing in the PDA. Susan R. Dana from the Southern Law Journal writes in her peer-reviewed article titled ‘Recent Pregnancy Discrimination Litigation: Defining the Jurisdictional Scope of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’ that the “PDA has yielded numerous inconsistencies in application and interpretation… due to the broad language and the lack of clear guidelines” (p.32). An example of this was when maternity leave was excluded from retirement credit by employers, decreasing retirement benefits of those individuals. Women brought this to court, suing their employers for pregnancy and sex discrimination. The PDA was then interpreted several different ways, resulting in a non-uniform consensus on the issue.

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The current law that addresses maternity leave federally in the U.S. is the FMLA, passed in 1993. A peer-reviewed article titled ‘Balancing Career and Parenthood: The Family Medical Leave Act and Maternity Leave’ by Nicole Magill from Widener Law Review restates that Congress’ purpose for this law was “‘to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity” (p.280). This shows Congress’ effort in recognizing and helping people grow their family values in a way that keeps them economically stable. The FMLA specifies the ability for workers to take off 12 weeks of work (within a year) for an approved reason, either family or medical. Under this law, companies are not required to give pay when their workers go on leave. Maternity leave would fall under the categories listed for FMLA, but the time given off work is not exclusive to giving birth. Currently, there is an issue regarding the amount of people who are eligible to take advantage of the law. A peer-reviewed article form the Harvard International Review describes how “only roughly half of US workers qualify for the leave entitlements [FMLA] provides, a figure that includes fewer than 20 percent of new mothers” (Neckermann). This is because people who work in small businesses or work less than 1,250 hours per year at any one company are not included in the spectrum of qualifications (Neckermann). Moreover, Abby McCloskey from ‘A Plan for Parental Leave’ explains that “because it is unpaid, many mothers cannot afford to take this leave even if they are eligible to do so” (par.2). Compared to other industrialized European countries, the FMLA is heavily criticized. This is because other countries allow for an average 10 months and up to two or three years of leave, drastically different from the FMLA policy (Berger).

More recently, there has been a political debate not over whether paid maternity leave should exist, but about how and with what limits it should be implemented. A current article published in The Fiscal Times on October 28, 2018 by Emily Zeppieri titled ‘Paid Family Leave: The Leading Democratic and Republican Proposals, Explained’, along with McCloskey’s ‘A Plan for Parental Leave’, explains the Democratic versus Republican solutions to maternity leave. The main Democratic plan, proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT), is titled the “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (Family Act), which would provide up to twelve weeks of paid family leave (which covers any family-related caretaking situations)…funded by payroll taxes” (McCloskey, par.8). A new income tax would be made to deposit money into a federally managed bank account collected through a payroll deduction system (Zeppieri). Zeppieri further describes how a “worker would be entitled to draw from the fund and use that money toward time off from work in the event of a covered medical or family need” (par.9). The main Republican stance is in support of the Economic Security for New Parents Act, which allows a paid maternity leave for 12 weeks maximum after a child is born or adopted. This plan is paid for through social security, not taxes. Parents can pull from their social security fund and ‘repay’ it later by postponing retirement (Zeppieri). The Republican plan is supported by the Independent Women’s Forum, which is a non-profit conservative based political organization, as stated in a publication on the IWF platform by Kristin Shapiro. The main difference between the Republican plan and the Democratic plan is the former is paid for through payroll taxes, while the latter is paid for through social security.

Ultimately, a consensus has been made historically that maternity leave is an important right for women, and a recent political decision has been made that paid maternity leave options should be explored. The PDA attempted to address equality regarding maternity leave and other types of leave, but caused judicial inconsistencies because of the ambiguous language. Then, the FMLA was introduced as the first law involving a job-protected leave of absence, but a large portion of the population was deemed ineligible or unable to utilize the benefits. The new political debates introduce new policies that solve some of the issues from the former two laws, but differ within themselves on how maternity leave should be paid for. Hence, the issue of paid maternity is still a heavily debated topic that will continue to politically evolve.

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Paid Maternity Leave Policy: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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