Why Some Feel Paid Maternity Leave Is Unfair

Recently, I eavesdropped on a conversation and listened to a woman argue that paid maternity leave is completely unfair. The woman, who does not have children of her own, personally feels the effects of maternity leave because she works alongside many moms in the workplace. I couldn’t “unhear” the statement and decided to jump in. Just to be clear, she wasn’t against the actual leave itself, because she highly understands the importance of moms recuperating at home with their little ones. But rather, the paid portion. Here was her issue, paraphrased:

Moms at home receiving pay checks are treated the same as those actually at work. Those that are actively putting in long hours, working on teams, meeting deadlines, struggling to keep up with their own work, PLUS juggling the added task from the person on leave. Simply put, it is unfair that moms get paid while the other employees are left holding the bag in their absence. Paid maternity leave is as close to a vacation as one can get! I mean, who doesn’t want to earn their paycheck while relaxing at home? 

The great debate.

Having had 3 maternity leaves of my own (only the last was paid), I was DYING to understand how paid maternity leave could possibly seem unfair. And furthermore the thought of it being compared to a vacation? Laughable! Under no circumstances could this statement be true. I felt my anger rising as I mentally bullet-pointed all of my opposing arguments in my head, ready to battle, call shots and take names. I felt myself getting defensive and was prepared to hit my grand-slam, but decided to simmer down (I occasionally get a little over-hyped) and take a diplomatic approach instead. So I patiently listened.

I must admit. When I stopped screaming in my head, I realized that she actually made some pretty good points that I never really considered. Here is what she said.

Arguments for why PAID maternity leave is unfair:

  • Why get paid when she isn’t working? It’s unfair that women get paid time off for a voluntary decision to have a baby. Simply put, employees should only be paid for the hours they work. Nothing more, nothing less. Moms on leave are not present, are not working, and therefore haven’t earned fair compensation. It’s disheartening when I show up every day and work long and grueling hours, but am paid just like the mom sitting at home relaxing. If I decided to take a 3 month vacation, I wouldn’t get paid for it. So why should she?
  • More work for everyone else. As if her being paid for everyone else’s work isn’t enough of a confidence-killer, we now have to overcompensate, put in longer days, and work even harder to cover her portion of the load in her absence. In a sense, I’m the one paying for her leave and I didn’t choose to have a baby!
  • She shouldn’t be paid for her CHOICE to have children. Having a baby is not an unexpected, unforeseen medical condition. It’s not a life-threatening illness. It’s a decision women make. If she CHOOSES to have a baby, she should prepare herself to be financially stable for her upcoming leave. Perhaps she should save up her vacation time like all other employees. Extended time off should be planned wisely and not thrown on the backs of others left holding down the office.

Time is money.

Now I must say, I get it. Time is money and generally speaking, we are compensated based on performance. Totally valid. I also understand that those that don’t have children may feel penalized and like they have to front the bill for a paid leave. And I totally can see how the absence of one employee may strain all others left to pick up their work. Fair. Basically, the assertion that the whole office is paying the price for a mom to be home during a leave is certainly a fair assessment to make.

In diplomatic fashion, I did address the arguments because surely there are others that agree with everything she said.

Debunking Myths:

  1. No, it’s not a luxury. I stand witness that IT IS NOT. For all 3 of my babies, I spent the first 3-4 weeks enduring the pain of vaginal stitches, unable to sit. Ever heard of post-partum donut seats? No? I’ll explain. You can sit on them and let your unmentionables breath while the raw lady-parts heal. Sounds luxurious! Oh, and now that I think about it, that pain pretty much rivaled the breastfeeding after-pains that feel more like active labor- Round Two in my uterus. Luxurious stuff there! And dare I say the dreaded H word from the pushing and prodding. Those suckers will have you questioning your very existence in life! Oh and don’t forget sleepless nights had me looking and feeling like the female version of E.T. with bangs.
  2. No resemblance of a paid vacation. Ah, OK. see, a vacation means relaxing. Drinks by the beach, sand in your toes. The sun against your face. No care in the world! Scratch that. The first few weeks after a baby is born is like working 3 full-time jobs with no lunches or breaks. Literally. there were times I was so busy I couldn’t even eat!
  3. It’s not an epidemic because most U.S. women don’t receive paid leave anyway. According to national data, only 25% of women report receiving paid maternity leave. It’s staggering that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that rarely offers it! Apparently the rest of the world has caught onto all the benefits.

Now that we got those out the way, let’s take a closer look .

Paid maternity actually helps EVERYONE:

  1. It fights sexism. Given that most moms don’t even receive this benefit, paid leave is an attempt to even the playing field for men and women. If leaves were unpaid, men would stay behind, collecting America’s paycheck. Men don’t have to take time off for their bodies to recuperate. They can stay at work, move up the ladder, and shine in all their glory. That will result in widening the pay gap between men and women. Meanwhile, women would be left with nothing to show for continuing the human race. Why should we pay the cost for global perpetuation of human life as we know it? Paid leave is a tiny token that doesn’t even begin to repay us for this monumental task.
  2. It’s better for companies. In fact, studies show that businesses lose a ton of money each year due to employee resignations, turnover costs, unemployment insurance, temporary staffing, and training new employees. Offering paid leave keeps women in the workforce and reduces the aforementioned costs. It also improves retention and raises work morale. So it’s a win-win for moms and businesses alike.
  3. Coworkers benefit too. Studies show that most coworkers actually don’t mind picking up the slack, another myth debunked. Not because they yearn for more work and longer hours, but because it increases their own job security. Seeing others benefit from family leave gives them a sense of hope and trust in their employers and that they would be supported in their time of need as well.
  4. It reduces government spending. Paid maternity leave decreases unemployment and government assistance for women that would otherwise not be able to contribute to their households during their, ahem, “vacation.”
  5. It’s fair. Because of all the above reasons, everyone wins.

Other important benefits of maternity leave:

Paid or unpaid, maternity leave has many positive correlations:

  • Reduced mortality rates by as much as 10%
  • Increased likelihood that babies attend well-visits and receive vaccinations
  • Increases rate and duration of breastfeeding (which decreases infections, asthma weights, obesity and various types of cancer)
  • Reduction in depression for moms

As a side note, men that took at least 10 days of paternity leave were likely to be more involved dads.

CNN

So yes. My opinion is that paid maternity leave is not only fair, but should be made mandatory for all businesses and companies in the U.S.

What is your opinion? Which side of the debate are you on? Please share this blog and discuss!

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Author
I am a career-driven mother of 3 dedicated to the health, spiritual, and emotional well-being of moms.

2 comments

  1. After having traveled the world, for a very large pharmaceutical company, and having seen (first hand) the benefits that are offered to other moms worldwide, we are very far behind and the care they receive is often significantly better than in the USA. To top it off (and I believe as a result) these children receive dedicate (and much needed) care from the ones who love them the most, resulting in happier and healthier humans. In Sweden, for example, I was working with the financial manager, who was pregnant again after just having returned from maternity leave (less than a year prior). She would be taking almost 2 years off, again, for this coming child and, while her position wasn’t guaranteed, she would have a job to come back to after her second child arrived.

    I believe there are many things we can learn from other countries and their healthcare policies and systems, but many in the USA don’t subscribe to a social system. In many European countries individuals pay 40% (or higher) into taxes, but these taxes (in turn) pay for many benefits (from healthcare to pensions to public services). Neither system is perfect, but you would think, in this day and age, that we’d be able to figure out something that helps out everyone.

    So… do I think the system is fair… no. While I was lucky and took maternity leave for both my kids (7 months with my first, where I took most of it unpaid and we ended up having to go on COBRA for a couple months and 6 months with my second, also most of it unpaid), many aren’t so lucky. I still received more benefits than many receive (because I worked for the same company for many years and the benefits were excellent). My husband also changed jobs while I was pregnant with our second and he was able to negotiate time off for when she arrived, however we were lucky.

    If a new mom has only been at a company for less than a year many benefits don’t kick in (both from the company and from the state), so there are many barriers to climbing the ladder and breaking that glass ceiling. And what about the women who get jobs where (even if they’ve worked there for years) don’t get any benefits? I agree that it behooves the company to offer great benefits, but it’s a socialist view and not something that’s easily accepted, which is truly a shame, because the future of the human species literally is relying on us all (both moms and dads) to raise decent human beings, but how are we able to even do that if we aren’t given the time to dedicate to doing that?

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  2. “Continuing the human race” was the most important description that stood out to me as to the benefits that moms provide in becoming pregnant and delivering as well as raising other human beings. Planned or on accident. The person that made the argument against this sounded like they considered a mom selfish when in fact being a mom is one of the most selfless acts you can possible do! It is NOT a vacation, and I wish they had those shows for non moms to switch lives with moms just like they have wife swap so she could see that. Also, child birth can be a traumatic experience and affect a persons physical, mental and emotional health. Would this same person make an argument against those that have been in a car accident or a veteran to not receive benefits or disability? Is she just prejudiced to moms because she chooses or cannot be in a situation to have a baby? It is a natural part of life to conceive. If man did not create contraceptives or other items to prohibit pregnancy, it would happen anyway, and therefore not be a choice, unless people just abstain, but I am willing to bet even she would not do that. Everyone is not in a position to save up money to prepare for maintaining a family without regular income. If that were the case, this would only work for the wealthy and would discriminate against those less wealthy to be able to extend their families. To remain fair, however, I would propose that in situations where a mom does receive paid maternity leave, and someone is staying behind at work to pick up their slack, since most leaves are not paid at 100%, perhaps the company should compensate the person that picks up the extra work for the remainder of that persons pay as long as they are getting it done. To me, the problem isn’t with the mom who chooses to carry out one of the primary reasons WOMEN were created in the first place, but more so with the employer. That coworker may not have children or been on paid maternity leave but she would want and need to be compensated of she experienced an accident and needed time off to recover.

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