Executive Order: Should the U.S. Offer Paid Maternity?

The United States is the only industrialized nation that fails to mandate paid leave for mothers with newborns. President Barack Obama is hoping to change that, providing more protections for mothers in the workplace. The President is also hoping to encourage employers to generally adopt more family-friendly policies, he announced at a summit earlier this month. Paving the way towards legally mandated family-friendly work environments could be an improvement for workers in California and nationwide.
According to a statement from the President, the United States is one of only three countries that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. While many states, including California, have taken action to give workers paid family leave, the President is urging nationwide action to protect America’s mothers and families. All families should have the basic right to afford to care for their loved ones. Our Orange County pregnancy discrimination attorneys are dedicated to protecting California employees against pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and other forms of employment inequality. We are abreast of trending legal issues that impact workers and are committed to promoting worker rights in California and nationwide.

While some likened the speech to something the President may have done on the campaign trail, others see the action as a genuine need to shift America’s workplace culture towards the reality of modern work culture. The summit event also featured an appearance by MadMen star, Christina Hendricks, to shed light on the similarities of the portrayal of televised 1950s culture and current U.S. employment policies. Currently, California does have a state mandated system of paid leave, but Obama wants to extend those protections to workers nationwide. Currently, Obama has not yet endorsed any legislation that would fund a national system or a bill that would fund legislation through a payroll tax. The push towards mandated maternity leave and new workplace policies is also a follow-up to his 2008 pledge not to raise taxes on low to upper middle-class families.

In essence, the summit was intended to launch a national conversation on the issue. While costs to fund a system are always an issue, meeting the family’s needs must be accomplished without raising taxes. Currently, legislation has been introduced by a Connecticut representative based on its own state mandates that provide paid leave through a fund paid for by tax contributions made by employees and employers, amounting to 2 cents of every $10 earned. Though the tax seems negligible, it is likely to draw complaints if it is seen as a nationwide tax hike to support mothers on maternity.

Under the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers are only required to pay unpaid leave for medical and family reasons, not pregnancy. The President instituted six weeks of paid leave for his staffers when they have a child, get sick, injured or need to care for a loved one. Though he has the authority to set the compensation of his own personnel, the authority does not extend to other federal workers without Congressional action. In addition to maternity leave, the President discussed overhauling other worker protections to include child care, flexible work schedules and other family-friendly benefits.

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