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Tech companies lead the way in offering maternity leave, but there's lots of room for improvement

Last time TechRepublic took a look at maternity leave policies in the US, in 2015, things weren't good. Here's what's changed in the last two years.

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Image: iStock/Halfpoint

When TechRepublic last reported on maternity leave, the US was one of only three countries left in the world (along with Papua New Guinea and Oman) that did not guarantee paid maternity leave.

Now, the U.S. is only one of two countries that has no paid maternity leave guarantees, since Oman is now off the list. The U.S. also holds the dubious distinction of coming in dead last among industrialized nations when it comes to paid maternity leave.

Prominent tech companies have been leaders in offering paid maternity leave —Netflix offers a whopping 52 weeks, Twitter offers 20 weeks of maternity leave, and 10 weeks for father and adoptive parents, companies' desire to do better with maternity leave has spawned startups that specialize in designing parental leave programs. But the reality is, we still have a long way to go.

As 2017 approaches mid-year, let's take a look at how things have changed since TechRepublic last covered the topic:

1. Despite the continued hype about maternity leave, the number of women actually taking maternity leave has not appreciably changed since 1994. According to research published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2017, less than half of all first-time mothers in the US take any paid leave. In the same 22-year period (1994-2015) that reflected almost no change in the number of women taking maternity leave, the number of new fathers taking paternity leave tripled.

This is stunning but true. Women do not feel comfortable taking maternity leave because many can't afford to give up paychecks if leaves are unpaid, and many also fear loss of career advancement opportunities or jeopardization of their positions if they are away too long.

2. Only four states have publicly paid maternity leave laws. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts currently have laws in effect. A new law takes effect in Washington D.C. in 2020, and New York's paid maternity leave law is set to go into effect in 2018.

3. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act leaves out workers in companies with under 50 employees. That's right. Only companies of 50+ employees are required to abide by the Family and Medical Leave Act. This means that in the U.S. that only 60% of employees (or 13% of private sector companies) are addressed by the FMLA. Even if you are with a company with over 50 employees, you still may not be able to qualify—unless you've been on the job at the company for over one year and have clocked at least 1,250 hours of work.

4. The top 180 companies in the U.S. that offer the most generous maternity leave in 2017 are mostly for-profit organizations with large, white-collar, professional workforces. They tend to cluster around a few industries: law, tech, and financial services, and consulting. While Netflix tops out all competitors with its 52 weeks of paid leave, Adobe offers 26 weeks, Motorola offers 24 weeks, Microsoft and Google offer 20 weeks — and no one on the list of the top 180 companies offers less than 16 weeks.

5. When it comes to paid maternity leave and worldwide comparisons, the U.S. is not in the game. The new leader as of this year is India, with 26 paid weeks of maternity leave. Following India are France, which provides 16 weeks of maternity leave, and Germany and Japan, which provide 14 weeks, compared with the U.S. guaranteeing zero weeks of paid maternity leave.

6. Employees at the same company don't always get equivalent maternity benefits. At Starbucks, for example, corporate parents get 12-18 weeks of paid leave, but in-store baristas who are new fathers or adoptive parents get no paid leave. Walmart has no full paid leave policy for its 1.2 million hourly employees, but full-time birth moms are eligible for 6-8 weeks of disability leave at 50% pay, and salaried employees are offered 10 weeks full pay as part of short-term disability.

7. Americans favor maternity and paternity leave. A new Pew Research Center study shows that 82% of Americans think mothers should have paid maternity leave, and 69% say fathers should have paid paternity leave. Those surveyed who favor paid maternity and paternity leave say moms should receive about 8.6 weeks and dads should have about 4.3 weeks.

8. There's a lot of uncertainty about the future of maternity leave and care. In September 2016, Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to support six weeks of maternity leave for working mothers. Past presidents like Barack Obama also fought for maternity leave. It remains to be seen if a maternity leave expansion makes it through congressional budget vetting.

What we do know is that the newly-introduced American Health Care Act (AHCA), which has passed the House and now heads to the Senate brings significant changes to insurance coverage for women's health care. The Affordable Care Act, passed during Obama's presidency, mandated that insurers cover maternity care and preventive health care services like contraception, and required insurers to charge everyone the same amount regardless of their health status. The Republican-backed AHCA enables states to seek waivers from these requirements and allows insurers to charge persons with pre-existing conditions more if they have a gap in coverage.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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