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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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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