Struggling to figure out what to get a coworker as a baby shower gift? If you don't want to overwhelm them with baby toys or random gadgets, you might consider this new trend. Now, as ABC News reported, people are donating vacation time as baby shower gifts to give new moms more time on maternity leave. It's a sweet gesture on the coworker's end, but says something pretty frightening about how society is set up.
Historically, the United States has never been that great when it comes to granting mothers maternity leave. The United States is the only industrialized nation which doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, according to Politifact, making it into an elite benefit versus something all mothers should be able to enjoy. According to the 2016 National Compensation Survey conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14 percent of civilian workers had access to paid family leave.
Instead of guaranteed paid leave, the United States has the Family and Medical Leave Act, which passed in 1993. The act allows qualified employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons (including having a baby or adopting children).
Twelve weeks might sound like a lot, until you remember that really only amounts to three months. That's three months for someone to not only recover from having a baby, but also to bond and prepare both themselves and their child emotionally to be apart when they go back to work. For many, that's not enough time, so cue Maternity Leave Donation Programs.
The programs are pretty self-explanatory. Don't have enough paid maternity leave, or don't get any at all? Time to hope your coworkers will donate some of their paid time off. But the availability of these programs depends on the state and company, so be sure to check your state's guidelines.
ABC News reported this week that a maternity leave donation program enacted in January 2018 in Nebraska allows new moms who work for the state to receive donated time once they have used their own accrued sick time. Nebraska, as a state, does not offer state employees dedicated paid maternity leave, according to ABC News. One new mother, Angela Hughes, of Kansas City, Missouri, told Good Morning America of receiving donated vacation time:
It took a weight off of my family’s shoulder. Having a baby is a huge adjustment anyway but having a premature baby, my emotions were all over the place.
Maternity Leave Donation Programs can also be included under a Voluntary Leave Transfer program. As defined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which serves as the chief human resources agency and personnel policy manager for the Federal Government, "under the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP), a covered employee may donate annual leave directly to another employee who has a personal or family medical emergency and who has exhausted his or her available paid leave."
Although the term "emergency" might not immediately bring up pregnancy, the U.S. Department of Commerce's website notes that a medical emergency means "a medical condition of an employee or family member, including normal pregnancy and the period of confinement and recuperation associated with it".
It's great that the opportunity to donate sick time exists, but it really begs the question: Why aren't mothers receiving adequate leave time to start?
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development monitors and catalogs stats on maternal leave policies. Using its data, a list of the 10 countries with the best maternity leave was put together. The United States doesn't come close. Estonia, for example, provides 166 weeks of leave at 51 percent of wages, or the equivalent of 85 weeks at full salary. The government pays the wages during the leave.
Paid (and longer) maternity leaves don't exist without reason. There are some real benefits to allowing parents more time off to spend with their new children. Researched by the University of Washington's Department of Health Services shows a "strong link between paid parental leave and child survival".
Research compiled by the University of Washington’s Department of Health Services shows a “strong link between paid parental leave and child survival", as reported by USA Today.
That's important to note, because the United State's infant mortality rate is shockingly high, especially when compared to other countries with similar income. According to TIME, a report published in the journal Health Affairs found that, when compared to 19 similar countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), U.S. babies "were three times more likely to die and 2.3 times more likely to experience sudden infant death syndrome between 2001 and 2010."
If the United States kept up with the OECD's overall decline in infant mortality since the 1960s, TIME noted that would have resulted in about 300,000 fewer infant deaths in America over the course of 50 years.
Although it is incredible to see coworkers assisting each other in times of need, the United States needs to begin investing in mothers and children. The time is long overdue.