Maternity Leave Gets Worse: Thanks, Massachusetts

Sasha Brown-Worsham

Of all the states I expect to betray my beliefs, I wasn't worried about the state I live in and love, Massachusetts (Scott Brown aside). However, yesterday when the state's highest court said it was A-OK for smaller companies to axe a new mom after eight weeks of maternity leave, they set the bar even lower for the ways in which we screw new moms in this country.

There's still some legal recourse for an employer who completely reneges on a promise, but the fact remains that maternity leave in the U.S. is abysmal.

According to Forbes last year:

France, Singapore, and Austria all offer four months' paid maternity leave benefits, and Germany offers 14 weeks. In the U.K., a woman receives 90 percent of her salary for up to a year off with her baby. Swedish mothers hit the jackpot with 480 days off at 80 percent of their salary, followed by their counterparts in Serbia and Denmark with a full year off at full pay. Even in Gambia, Somalia, and Vietnam, new mothers receive at least three months' paid maternity leave.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Australia provide no paid maternity leave, only the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which promises 12 weeks unpaid leave. Women in Massachusetts can lean on that law in bigger companies, but companies with less than six employees are welcome to terminate employment after eight weeks.

So, why are we not rioting?

I get so angry when I think about this that I practically foam at the mouth. How can we possibly say as a country that we support families and then offer women no way of caring for them and no legal protection? Why isn't everyone defecting to Scandinavia?

I'm particularly sensitive to this because I worked during my first pregnancy in a position that could have had so much flexibility (I'm a writer after all). I also worked under all working moms. Guess what? I got zero support from my boss who basically told me I was to come back after three months full time or lose my job. Guess what I chose?

I was lucky to have that choice. Most moms don't.

The worst part is that I truly keep believing things will get better, that someone in power will realize how backward it all is and things will change, but then something like this happens and I realize we're nowhere near that. 

What do you think of maternity leave in this country?


Image via Sasha Brown-Worsham

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