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When headlines hit, they were meant to strike a chord in the heart of all who read ‘American employees are donating their vacation days so their expecting co-workers can have longer maternity leaves. Companies are implementing maternity leave donation programs.’ And while you might be tempted to think that this deserves commendation, maybe even replication in other parts of the world, many have found this story problematic.
Even the media seems caught up in the feel-good vibes of these acts, as Good Morning America ran a story about co-workers coming together to support each other. But many seem to miss the subtle yet overwhelming reality precipitating these actions: A lack of centrally mandated maternity and paternity leave in the US has encouraged businesses and companies to pay lip service to the issue.
In other words, donating vacation days so co-workers can have a more extended leave with pay is akin to treating the symptoms of the disease rather than finding a cure for the underlying causes, mainly because the US has the unenviable record of being the only developed country without any guarantees for paid maternity leave.
This puts affected individuals in a tough spot– specifically, the worry is not just about having enough time to adjust to a significant life change, but that they can’t afford to take unpaid leave. In fact, a study by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that an abysmal 47.5 percent of women who took time off work as a result of childbirth received payment. For the many others, maternity leave is a luxury they cannot afford.
And in a show of continued government inaction/indifference, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts recently approved a new maternity leave donation program for state government workers. “We want our teammates at the State of Nebraska to have the flexibility they need to be with their newborn children following their birth,” said the governor in a statement.
Expectedly, the lack of paid maternity leave precipitates another problem related to organized maternity leave donation schemes: the introduction of a new social pressure for people without children to put in more time than required by law! America’s already pressurized work culture of forcing many to not only miss use their vacation days but also to give them up entirely.
Even these altruistic acts of vacation donation still fall short of standards elsewhere. Investigations show that the women in the Good Morning America story barely took the same time as the shortest, paid maternity leaves of other developed countries which range from 12 weeks to as many as 40 weeks. The numbers get even worse when you discover that only 35% of organizations in the US offer paid maternity leave in the first place.
So while at the surface, this generosity from co-workers is commendable, the lack of kindness from employers and structured intervention from the government means employees are left alone to fight off the increasingly stifling pressures of the modern workplace in America.
What do you think of the trend of donating PTO for maternity or paternity leave? Tell us in the comments.