It is not at all surprising that having a child, whether newborn or adopted, comes with many unique and challenging difficulties for parents across the United States. Parents of any status are expected to fully be back to normal after the birth or adoption of their child with little help and support from government or their place of employment. As a society, we should no longer let the parents of new children to suffer from feeling unprotected during such an exciting time in their lives.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is no longer helpful to Americans
Family life has changed from the ideas that women were expected to stay at home and raise children while the father worked to provide. Now, many women desire or are forced to work for personal reasons while more and more men are staying home with the children more. The Government and business owners must be able to meet these new expectations with stride rather than ignoring the growing issues and complaints from parents across the country in regard to an outdated act, The Family and Medical Leave Act, that as this research paper from Ultius will discuss, is unhelpful to many Americans.
Negative effects of these difficulties and their lack of support can result in serious depression, divorce, and inadequate food and shelter while parents struggle to balance family and work life. The lack of adequate parenting in the developmental stages of a child, or from home placement in regard to adoption or foster care, can be detrimental for a child and create lasting issues if not properly dealt with.
This argumentative analysis will form extensive opinions about the Family and Medical Leave Act as it relates to new parents through varying resources and ideas about maternity leave, paternity leave, family studies, and studies from other country’s government aid for new parents. Additionally, it will argue how this Act is not at all adequate enough for the new age of workers due to the leave being unpaid and the difficulty of balancing and work and home life in the new modern American family.
How the Family and Medical Leave Act works
In the United States, the current system for family and medical leave is a system that has been under a lot of scrutinizing over the years from new parents, prospective parents, those with elderly parents, and business owners. In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was implemented by the federal government and,
“requires that employers with fifty or more employees to provide employees with up to twelve weeks of unpaid family or medical leave” (Miller & Hollowell, 2014, p. 369).
This unpaid time of leave is available to employees that qualify in a twelve-month period, after birth or diagnosis, for those that work more than a 25-hour week (Miller & Hollowell, 2014, p. 369). Within the fine print of the act are many details that disqualify a lot people that could use FMLA such as needing to be employed for at least a year or the number of total employees needed to qualify any employee.
Good intentions behind the Family and Medical Leave Act
The intention of this act is to give employees the availability of a short-term leave for the various stated reasons like caring for a newborn or someone in relation with a serious health condition without the possibility of losing their job. While this does sound like a positive act for workers, a congressional commission shows that only 3.6% of employees in these workplaces have taken advantage of using the provided family and medical leave (Baird & Reynolds, 2004).
Studies suggest that the biggest reason that people do not utilize FMLA, even if they qualified, is due to the leave being unpaid. Still, this number is startling, and research confirms that many people do not utilize the Family and Medical Leave Act due to: being unable to afford the time off, an unawareness of being eligible for benefits, and that the effect is too big for employers which could leave them in a poor situation on their return.
Analysis of the Family and Medical Leave Act
According to the Pew Research Center, American families are much more likely to have two working parents than ever before (Patten, 2015). In years before the Family and Medical Leave Act was implemented, typical families would be structured in a way that would have the men working full-time to provide for the family and costs while the women would be the one that would be unemployed.
Now, there is a higher percentage of two working parents in typical American family than there has ever been in the past (Patten, 2015). This change in family dynamics could be due to an increase in the desire for women to have their own career or the need for income from both parents rather than only one. With unpaid leave, this act is less appealing for those that may have otherwise taken the time to refocus the family portion of their life, especially when families need the extra income that comes from two full-time, working parents.
Taking up to three months off with no pay is not justifiable to many families in today’s economy. It is not justifiable because the limited income could leave bills and other expenses unpaid, that will typically lead to other problems in the family like a strain in marriage or with parent-child relationships. In a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, new parents will feel that they need to go back to work sooner than they would have otherwise liked to in order to pay for the expenses that come from having, adopting, or fostering a new child (Gillett, 2015).
Paid leave, when speaking for newborns, adopted, or fostered children, allows time for the parents to bond with their children and come back to work when they are feeling less stressed about the effects that having a new child will inevitably have on their lives. It also gives parents resources to handle needs like diapers, bottles, wipes, and clothes that they cannot afford with no income.
The problem with The Family and Medical Leave Act is that it has some strict guidelines. It is only offered to: care for a newborn baby within one year of birth, to care for an adopted or foster child within one year of the time placed, to care for an employee’s spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, or if the employee suffers from a serious health condition that affects their job (Miller & Hollowell, 2014).
Those caring for a grandparent are not eligible due to it not being considered immediate family, those who work for companies with less than fifty employees are not eligible, and those who are not considered full-time are not eligible to receive these benefits (Baird & Reynolds, 2004). This means that parents that work more than one job, who work the hours per week to be considered a full-time worker, are not eligible for the guarantees that FMLA was set up to provide. Additionally, while some workers may have the option for guaranteed unpaid leave, this act puts stress on the parents to go back to work for monetary reasons.
Women are working more than in previous years
Many women feel the need to leave their job entirely because they feel as though they cannot hand the stress of balancing their family and work lives. In an article by Jennifer Ludden, a new mom speaks out on how she was forced to come back to work after only six weeks of leave, a difficult delivery, and having a husband that worked full time trying to provide while she was unable to work (2013). Another woman was diagnosed with endometriosis and was told that she was not allowed time off and would have to ‘push through the pain’ (Ludden, 2013).
It is not surprising when numbers show that there are still more full-time working men than women. Women are still seen as the home caretaker and many women feel powerless while trying to keep up with all of the new expectations of being a new mother. When full-time, working women were asked the question, “Do you feel you spend enough time with your children?”, about 40% reported that they felt as though they spent too little with their children (Patten, 2015). The stress from this can lead mothers to spend as much time as possible, outside of work, with their children and leaves no room for a social life.
Other countries leading the way for paid time off for families
In 2016, the United States became one of only four countries in the world with no federally mandated policy to aid new parents with paid time off (Weller, 2016). Some countries offer to pay a certain percentage of the normal wage, while others have specified systems set up for paid leave that can be used by both parents in order to promote bonding from the father (or partner) rather than just the mother.
In countries like Finland and Denmark, new moms can start their maternity leave several weeks before their due date and then receive a set number of weeks they can claim for leave at full pay (Weller, 2016). Other countries like Sweden and Belgium offer paid leave to both mothers and fathers, though the fathers get significantly less, at 80% of their pay (Weller, 2016). This is to ensure that both parents are spending time with the new child and that it gives both parents a chance to adapt to their new lives to find a balance between family and work.
While all these countries have great benefits for new parents, the country Lithuania leads the way for the best maternal and paternal leave policies. In Lithuania, new moms get 18 weeks of fully paid leave while new fathers get 4 weeks. In addition to this, they get 156 weeks to share (Weller, 2016). This means that they can get paid at 100% of their income until the new child turns one year old.
The options that these different countries like Lithuania and Sweden have for their new parents proves that the United States is far behind what is necessary for their new parents. The current rules that apply to the Family and Medical Leave Act make is extremely difficult for parents to take time off, and even harder when they are not included in the act guidelines. Many new parents do not even have the option of the 12-week unpaid leave due to working for small companies, not working full time, or not having the resources to take that much time off of work.
Allowing time for the new parents to get used to raising a family and working full-time gives them the time necessary to feel focused on their work and ready to get started again. Many managers and business owners argue that those who try to use FMLA are creating havoc at work and forcing management to make changes in all aspects so that employees can take time off. On the contrary, parents are taking this time off to readjust to the changes taking place at home while allowing for a positive environment for their new child.
Women who have had to work full-time with a newborn have a greater rate of depression and stress than those that had the means to stay home (Melnick, 2011). Giving women the time to adjust and to learn balance between work and family is necessary for not only the mother, but the job as well. If a mother goes back to work with these feelings of stress and depression, she may be unable to properly perform her duties. Having a healthy amount of time to adjust can enable women go back to work feeling healthy and confident in their abilities to do their jobs successfully.
This leads to a higher morale in the workplace and an increase in productivity versus mothers coming back to work directly after having a child. Getting adequate, paid leave is not only about the women when it comes to becoming a new parent. There is research in Israel that proved that men who took leave to care for young children would actually have changes in their brain that make them better parents and that they are more involved as the child gets older (Gillett, 2015).
It is interesting that there are many studies about the positive effects of paid leave, as well as many countries that have its approval, but one of the biggest countries in the world does not give an adequate amount of time off to either the man, woman, or same-sex couples as they go through this difficult process.
States are stepping up
There are a few states that offer more extensive leave programs to mothers through pregnancy and adoption as well as same-sex couple pregnancy and adoption. In California, any women working with at least five employees can collect temporary disability up to $490 a week from the time they are disabled due to pregnancy and onward up until four months (Zintl, 2016). New Jersey has a similar program that offers up to $400 a week for a maximum of 12 weeks, and Rhode Island offers up to $500 a week for a maximum of 30 weeks (Zintl, 2016).
In these states, studies showed that managers and business owners reported little to no change in the work environment due to an employee taking maternal or paternal leave (Zintl, 2016). The question remains, why do we only offer unpaid leave to mothers, when those receiving more time and compensation are better fit to handle the daily stresses that come from raising a family and maintaining a full-time job?
Conclusion on the Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Act of 1993 is not adequate enough for the new traditional American family. The rules and regulations that apply to the act do not give many new parents the options of a guaranteed job, an income to provide, or enough time off in some cases. There is solid evidence from other countries implementing extensive maternity and paternity leave programs that have had positive effects on the health of the parents and the health of the child. It is unfair to ask that employees do not start a family in fear of losing their job or not being able to afford the time off that they may need.
There must be a better and more extensive federally mandated act created that allows for a healthy balance in family and work life to keep more employees in the work force. When women and men get an adequate amount of time off, they tend to come back to work feeling better and ready to do their jobs properly. Businesses that offer leave to new parents have said that they see little to no change in the work environment because of time off. It is time for the United States to catch up to what the rest of the world is doing and create a healthier and fair environment for its people.
Baird, C. L., & Reynolds, J. R. (2004). Employee Awareness of Family Leave Benefits: The effects of family, work, and gender. Sociological Quarterly, 45(2), 325-353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/234959339?accountid=38027
Gillette, R. (5 August 2015). Careers: The science behind why paid parental leave is good for everyone. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-proof-paid-parental-leave-is-good-for-everyone
Ludden, J. (5 February 2013). Health: FMLA not really working for many employees. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/02/05/171078451/fmla-not-really-working-for-many-employees
Melnick, M. (21 July 2011). Study: Why maternity leave is important. Time. Retreived from http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/21/study-why-maternity-leave-is-important/
Miller, R.L., Hollowell, E.H. (2014). Business Law Text & Exercises. Eighth Edition. Boston, MA.
Patten, E. (4 November 2015). How American parents balance work and family life when both work. PewResearchCenter. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/04/how-american-parents-balance-work-and-family-life-when-both-work/
Weller, C. (24 August 2016). Work: These 10 countries have the best parental leave policies in the world. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/these-10-countries-have-the-best-parental-leave-policies-in-the-world
Zintl, A. (2016). Maternity & Paternity Leave: How does your state measure up on maternity leave? Parents. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-life/maternity-paternity-leave/maternity-leave-by-state/