Mat Leave in America: Is the Landscape Finally Changing?


maternity leave in americaJust in time for Mother’s Day, Marissa Mayer, the newly minted Yahoo CEO, sparked envy among working parents everywhere when she expanded the company’s paid maternity leave to a jaw-dropping 16 weeks for moms and 8 weeks for dads last week.

In the only developed nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave—America, that is—Yahoo’s new policy may signal that the time has come for us to rethink our attitudes towards new parents in the officeplace.

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Yahoo’s policy, which comes on the heels of Mayer’s controversial decision to ban working from home, brings the company’s leave policies in line with other tech giants. New moms working at Google get five months of paid maternity leave. At Facebook, moms and dads get four months off. Compare that to the 12 weeks of unpaid leave that most Americans get and the numbers are truly startling.

But Silicon Valley has been playing the role of workplace innovator for years, providing workers with office game rooms, free meals and concierge-like services. Yahoo’s new leave policy fits the same mold by also including $500 in so-called “baby bucks.” These progressive leave policies might provide other American companies a new model to follow.

Tech Giants Embracing Moms

“These companies are on the cutting edge,” said Jocelyn Elise Crowley, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University and author of the upcoming book “Mothers Unite! Organizing for Workplace Flexibility and the Transformation of Family Life.” As other companies become more concerned about retaining talent they may turn around and change their polices too. But it may take a while.”

As America’s workforce ages and baby boomers retire, companies may begin to worry about retaining younger workers once they start families. In fact, Yahoo, which is wrestling with employee morale and productivity, may have looked to Google when it decided to juice up its leave policy. Google revamped its maternity leave policy after finding that new moms were twice as likely to quit as other employees. After the company lengthened leave to five months, the number of moms quitting dropped by 50%.

Google revamped its mat leave policy after finding that new moms were twice as likely to quit as other employees. Once it lengthened leave, the number of moms quitting dropped by 50%.

“Once Google enacted this policy, they turned those numbers around. Women were taking the time off and then they were returning,” said Crowley.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World …

In contrast, the rest of the developed world has been paying for maternity leave for quite a while. Mexico guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave. New parents in Bulgaria get a whopping 56 weeks off. America’s Family and Medical Leave Act, meanwhile, falls in line with countries like Papua New Guinea and Swaziland, which also don’t pay for maternity leave.

RELATED: Swoonworthy Mat Leave Policies Around the World

Mayer’s latest move, however, may be more one of damage control than forward thinking. Last winter, she evoked the ire of working parents when she unilaterally ordered all employees working from home to return to the office. Her decision came across as particularly insensitive since she had built a nursery for her own infant next to her office (after returning from her “power maternity leave.”)

Despite Yahoo’s latest maternity leave epiphany, it may be a long time before companies outside of Silicon Valley reboot their thinking. Since 2005, employers have become stingier about how much they pay parents during maternity leave, not more generous.  Only 9% of employers provided new moms with a full maternity-related disability salary in 2012, down from 17% in 2005. The number of companies that offer even a partial salary dropped by 2% during the same period to 63%, according to a report by the Families and Work Institute.

Kenneth Matos, senior director of Employment Research and Practice at the Families and Work Institute and a co-author of the study, said: “Anything that takes you away from full-time work is less popular among employers.”

  • Toni Bradley L

    Where’s the benefit for those who choose not to have children in an already over-populated world? The concessions afforded parents doesn’t stop after the maternity leave. Having to watch parents get to leave because of something child related (not just illness) does nothing for the morale of the childless left to cover for the parent. Being childless is also not always a choice. I’m sure this will raise the ire of many who feel they’ve done some great feat by giving birth (something being done for centuries) and deserve some type of special treatment. I simply disagree.

    • Augustus Falvio

      Don’t hate on people who choose the natural path. Just because you’re either gay and/or “chose” not to have kids doesn’t mean you should hate on those who do. And stop being so selfish. If you’ve not had children of your own then you have no idea what it’s like. Good for you and your unsupported and haughty opinion that the world is over populated. What that translates to, “is that I’m selfish and don’t want to make the sacrifices required to have any children of my own so I’m going to reassure myself by making up reasons why having kids is a bad idea.” Hopefully you will do something more useful with your life than spending your time than working 60-80 hour weeks and going to nightclubs well into your 40s. You should spend some time contemplating you self-serving perspective on life and figure out how you can make a positive impact rather than hating on other people.

      • Jacqueline York

        Yikes. Thanks for the ugly commentary. Sometimes being childless is not a “choice” but simply a reality. Thanks for being an entitled asshole.

      • DJ

        I do agree with you Augustus but you make some pretty wild accusations as well. I believe there is a happy medium between the two of you. Smart work forces have learned to manage the two…..For instance parents need time off for soccer games or dance recitals while others cover for them. At the same time married/single without children don’t have these reasons to leave work early or not be present, but at the same time are frowned upon leaving for a concert out of state or just because they would like to take off a few hours or so early for no reason at all. I believe it’s all about YOUR choice of happiness. If leaving early for a concert makes you happy and makes you feel valued then you should be allowed. Let others cover for you for a change. If you want things to be fair then benefits should not be slanted for only a few or many but leave out some. (this time should not be counted towards vacation etc)

    • ABain111213

      IF you want children a lot of forward thinking companies also give leave AND money for adoption; also Adoption is covered under FMLA. Don’t expect everyone to forego benefits and protections simply because others don’t choose the same path; or are unable. Lots of different benefits and/or protections for different circumstances; you wouldn’t say cancer patients shouldn’t be entitled for time off for treatments simply because you do not have the disease. Same concept.

  • CA RN

    I figured out the working world was not fair about 2 weeks into my first job, If you didn’t smoke you didn’t get a 15 min break…Then I remembered what my mom told me. “life is not fair” I began to advocate for myself. If I want it I ask. If I don’t care I don’t complain. It is what it is if it is important to you work to change it for yourself or for others, it is up to you.