The European Parliament recently set forward a proposal to extend its parental leave to include 18 weeks full pay of maternity leave and 2 weeks full pay of paternity leave. See Maternity Leave Revisions Continue to Split EP and Council. While there has been opposition to the amendments in Europe in the face of an economic crisis, Edite Estrela, an MP from perfunctory, recently argued that "maternity should not be seen as a burden on the economy but rather as a service provided to society." In the EU, the current minimum maternity leave is 14 weeks.
By contrast, the United States has made little to no effort to enhance the protections for parental leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The FMLA only provides 12 weeks of job protected unpaid parental leave and covers only about 45% of the workforce (applicable to employers with 50 or more employees)*. Violations of the FMLA continue to be rampant and employees find it difficult to step forward and demand the bare minimum of rights afforded to them. What do these limited protections - far less than what is provided in Europe and almost anywhere else in the world -- say about our "family values" and the position of women (who still do the majority of childcare) in our country?
This past February, Human Rights Watch issued a report "Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Support in the U.S," documenting the negative health and financial impact inadequate leave policies have on our country. Various groups and political constituencies are committed to fighting to expand the rights of parents. In the meantime, however, there is much left to be done to ensure that employers do not violate the protections of the FMLA and that those employees who are entitled to protected leave can and do use it without negative job ramifications.
*Some states have heightened protection under state laws. For instance, Connecticut has the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA) and other states expand protection in Unemployment Insurance or Temporary Disability Insurance programs.
Please visit the professional bio of Reena Arora at the Outten & Golden LLP website.