Netflix announced that it will be offering unlimited maternity leave for the first year after having or adopting a child. Not only that, a parent (whether mother or father) could return on a modified status.
“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.”
While I am happy that a company recognized the importance of PAID maternity leave, part of me is furious.
For the past three years, I worked in a predominantly female profession. I was a teacher. And I loved my job. Until I got pregnant.
I would have never thought that a profession so dominated by females (84% that is, according to the National Center for Education Information, 2011) would have a barbaric maternity leave policy. My job only adhered to the minimum of what is federally mandated: 12 weeks of UNPAID leave. This policy, also known as FMLA, guaranteed that my job was protected during my leave.
12 weeks aka 3 months. Regardless of when it started. So when I was put on early bed rest due to preterm contractions, my maternity leave kicked in. Meaning that four weeks after giving birth, the school expected me to return to work or risk losing my job.
I would talk to fellow employees in outrage at my unpaid and short leave. However, it seemed to be accepted as the status quo. A shrug here. A story there, about how they had to return two weeks after delivery in order to continue earning a paycheck. A blank stare. A recommendation that I use my sick days during my leave for pay: my FIVE sick days that I’m allotted. A shocked look at me that I even contemplated taking off my full maternity leave. “You’re taking the whole three months?” What? I couldn’t believe how lax people were. No one seemed to want to change the policy. Everybody seemed to be more critical of me and my “choice” to get pregnant. “Why didn’t you plan to have her in the summer?” The comments I got from people were ridiculous.
Meanwhile, at my husband’s firm, they offered paid maternity leave. I guess I didn’t choose the right profession.
The United States has one of the worst maternity leave policies in the world. It is the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Most countries offer at least three months of PAID leave.
I was due in December. The doctor ordered a mandatory bed rest in October since my employer and I could not reach an agreement on a part time schedule—a flexibility that would have allowed me to work longer. But the US doesn’t mandate that companies offer accommodations to pregnant women. Seems silly. To lose an employee completely as opposed to having them work part time.
After Ava was born, I had to apply for a disability leave. During this leave, my job wasn’t necessarily “protected,” which the school made evident by a job posting that I saw online for my position.
I received no pay during my leave. And, to add insult to injury, I was unpaid when I returned to work. How is that possible? The way my district calculates pay, I “owed” them money because of the amount of time that I took off. So I worked “for free” for about 2 months AFTER I returned. And, as if to further the inequity of the situation, a man who was ostensibly hired to replace me, but wasn’t clear to work before I returned, was present during this time. Since I had returned, he was relegated to observing classes because he had signed a contract. During the time period that I worked without paid, he received checks while not actually teaching (his own set of 6 classes). Such is the real-life consequences of maternity leave in America.
My story is not that bad in comparison to the many women who suffer through poor maternity leave policies. I am lucky: I was in a stable, dual income relationship during my pregnancy. But what about the single woman who is pregnant? Or the family with no savings who finds themselves expecting? To forgo pay for months is an impossibility for many families.
But there are consequences to rushing to return to work right after delivery. The physical trauma of pregnancy & delivery does not heal itself within a matter of weeks. In fact, it takes month for a woman to feel “back to normal,” if she ever does at all.
And what about finding and paying for childcare? Our dismal maternity leave is matched by our disgraceful early childcare industry. And what about nursing? How can one expect a company to be flexible with a nursing mother if they can’t be with a pregnant mother?
“I can’t sympathize with your nursing thing. I guess because I didn’t do it.”
-coworker at my high school
(Who says these things??!!)
The US maternity policies (or lack of) make me sick. While I think it is commendable that ONE company, Netflix, has decided to take a huge step in accommodating parents with new children, I can’t help think about all of the other companies that don’t offer any paid leave, or any job protected leave outside of the FMLA 12 week cycle. Or what about half of all employees who don’t even qualify for FMLA, therefore living in the daily fear of losing their job. I applaud Netflix, but I’m waiting for the country as a whole—not private companies, not individual states—the entire United States of America to adopt better, federally mandated maternity leave policies.