BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Everybody Has A Story To Tell

Posted by espressodog on March 16, 2010

Access to parental leave with pay when a child is born or adopted is an important support for working families, yet the vast majority of US private sector workers do not have this benefit.

Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental human rights group, is interviewing parents in the US about their experiences with unpaid maternity and paternity leave, and the impact on their families.  It is also interviewing business owners, medical professionals, officials, lawmakers, and others.  The interviews will be used for a report (using pseudonyms for the parents) and for making recommendations on US law and policy. 

HRW is seeking parents to interview by phone in the coming month.  The interviews last about 25-30 minutes. They cover the challenges parents have faced when they have little or no paid parental leave, especially with respect to child health (getting immunizations, essential health care, etc.), establishing or continuing breastfeeding, recovering from childbirth, managing financially without paid leave, and with respect to their jobs and careers. There is no compensation for the interviews. 

Please contact Janet Walsh at walshj@hrw.org if you have experienced parental leave with limited or no pay and are willing to be interviewed. 

Background on Paid Parental Leave
Research shows that paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality, improve immunization rates and health outcomes for mothers and babies, increase fathers’ participation in child care, improve breastfeeding initiation and duration, strengthen women’s connection to the workplace, avoid family poverty spells, and reduce businesses’ recruitment and training costs. 

Paid parental leave is considered a human right under several international treaties (not ratified by the US), and 177 countries now have laws guaranteeing paid parental leave.  Only a few, including the United States, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Australia, do not have national laws on paid parental leave.  Australia will offer 18 paid weeks starting in 2011.

In the United States, the national Family and Medical Leave Act requires only unpaid leave.  Only two states (California and New Jersey) currently offer paid parental leave, and a handful of others offer temporary disability insurance to mothers after childbirth.   States that do offer such paid leave generally fund their programs through small payroll deductions into a state-wide insurance fund, minimizing the impact on any particular business. 

For the most part, it is up to employers to decide whether to offer this benefit.  Some employers, especially larger ones, do so with good results.  Other employers would like to, but can’t without the help of a social insurance fund.   As of 2008, only 9 percent of civilian US workers had paid family (including parental) leave, and among the lowest-income workers, only 3 percent had such leave.

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