Maternity Leave Inequality

Dooce wrote a great post today about small businesses & maternity leave in the US (or lack thereof) and it really got me thinking about my own situation again.

Check out these comparison numbers (courtesy of Wikipedia) for where my sister is currently living (Norway) compared to the US where my husband and I both work for tiny employers that definitely don’t quality for FMLA.

Paid Maternity Leave – 56 weeks (13 months) (80%) or 46 weeks (10.5 months) (100%) – mother must take at least 3 weeks immediately before birth and 6 weeks immediately after birth, father must take at least 10 weeks – the rest can be shared between mother and father.
Paid Paternity Leave – 10 weeks of the 56/46 weeks paid leave is reserved for the father. If he does not take these 10 weeks, they will be lost as they can not be transferred to the mother.
Unpaid Maternity Leave – The mother can also take an extra full year of unpaid leave after the paid period ends.
Unpaid Paternity Leave – The father can also take an extra full year of unpaid leave after the paid period ends. In addition, the father is entitled to take two weeks unpaid leave directly before or after birth (many fathers are paid for these weeks by their employers).
Restrictions – To gain the right to paid leave for herself and the father, the mother must have worked for 6 of the last 10 months before birth, or the leave is unpaid (except for a lump sum benefit from the government)

United States
Pait Maternity Leave – 0 weeks
Paid Paternity Leave –  0 weeks
Unpaid Maternity Leave – 12 weeks*
Unpaid Paternity Leave – 12 weeks*
*Restrictions – To be covered underFMLA (Family Medical Leave Act): Must work for a covered employer (all public agencies; private companies with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.) Must have worked for covered employer for at least 12 months prior, and at least 1250 hours in previous 12 months. Other restrictions apply

Um….yeah, you see the issue here?

I know it’s a difficult situation b/c “how can small business owners afford to do this” – etc.etc… well, they make it work in Norway so there must be a way!!

If I got my BFP this cycle, I’d be due next February. At that time, I would be eligible for 0 DAYS of maternity leave – paid or unpaid. I’m saving up my “paid time off” (which I can only stockpile to 15 days or I lose them) so I’ll get 3 weeks paid off that way. Nice, except I get zero paid days off in the meantime in order to do that! Also, I’m an Office Manager and a Realtor (with 95% of my income coming from the Office Manager position at this time)…and I seriously run EVERYTHING in this office. My boss had a hard time giving me 8 work days off to go to Norway. I understand that they would need to hire someone in my place if I was going to be gone for more than those three weeks I’ll have stockpiled, but CRAPOLA, then what for me?

It stresses me out too much if I think about it much, but change is never going to happen unless people speak up to their legislature about the fact that this needs to change. Being home with a newborn is so important…it breaks my heart to know that I probably won’t get more than three weeks of time with my own. Yikes.


  1. Jos- This issue royally sucks for those of us who are trying to plan what we are going to do and especially since it seems like we both HAVE to go back to work after we have nuggets. I know it isn't an option for me to stay at home. I am pretty fortunate to be with a company that will give me 6 weeks paid leave for maternity, but even that seems so short. My goal is to stock pile the cash to be able to take the additional unpaid 6 weeks off. My going back to work plan still needs some resolution, but I hope to find a care provider within walking distance of the office because ideally I would like to continue breast feeding, but I am not really sure what the reality of the situation will be. It is tough for us. I would have to do more research but I think Norway's leave is paid by the government not the employer. So it is part of their tax system. So in essence everyone helps pay for that privilage. I am not sure what their taxes are like, but I know Sweden's is 35% of your income and then then they have higher taxes on property. I am sure if we crunched numbers and took the difference between what we pay in income tax and what they do, then put that amount in savings from the time we start working at 16 and until we give birth at 26-30ish, we might be able to afford to take a whole year off. But who is thinking about maternity leave at 16? not me. It would be great if we had a better system. But I don't see it happening in the next year, which is hopefully when we will both become mothers. Have you done a job search in Norway?

  2. That's crazy! Yea I think about that too…at my work we have to get our leave down to 80 hours by the start of our new working year (July 1st) So I was thinking about if I were to get pregnant and be due in July, I will have to use leave on just random pointless days and then get down to 80 hours that I would get paid while out?! 2 weeks with my baby and the rest no pay. It's crazy!

  3. Natalie – The Norway system is paid for by BOTH employers and the government. It's a shared system. Yes, their taxes are quite high, but it makes sense that everyone helps pay for everything in society…be it for roads, schools, health care, maternity leave, etc. The more I've researched it, the more I love the system. For example, my sister is attending university there right now FOR FREE. That's right – you don't even have to be a Norwegian citizen to get that benefit. It's amazing. They have one of the highest tax rates in the world, but they're also one of the happiest, healthiest, most successful countries in the world. I'd love to work abroad (int'l business major, remember?) but my husband would NEVER go for it. I have to satiate my love with travel insetad. :-)That'd be great if you got 12 weeks, even if half was unpaid. Way better than what I'm looking at. Yes, I could take unpaid leave, but there's no way there'd be a job waiting for me when I got back then. 🙁 Ah well, at this point I just need to focus on getting pregnant. Then we'll worry about the aftermath! BTW – check out Grumbles and Grunts. You can totally breastfeed but not see the baby all day. A lot of my girlfriends do it – you just have to be able to pump a few times throughout the day and that stockpiled breast milk is bottle fed to the babies at daycare (if you aren't able to find one w/in walking distance of your work). So many details to work out…

  4. Josey,The maternity leave here is no better. Being a teacher we can take as many weeks we need, but we are not paid for any of them! My husband being self employed running our business, and helping his father with his business gets no leave unless he shuts our business down. So, therefore being a teacher you try to plan to have a summer baby, however it doesn't quite work that way. When I finally get that BFP I wont care when it is, but I am sure I will stress over the financial situation. However you can take out short term disability insurance, and the will pay you a portion of your income as soon as your maternity leave starts. So I think my husband and I will look into that. Anyway you look at it…it sucks!!

  5. @Allison – where did you get short-term disability insurance from/ everything i've seen is $200+/month and you're not eligible for the first 9 months after you get it (for a normal delivery).

  6. Wow. I was honestly unaware there was THAT huge of a discrepancy. I must say–I completely believe a mother should be given way more paid time off than we allow here in the States. This makes me want to job hunt in Norway.If nothing else, we certainly need a better system here.

  7. I hear you on this. It sucks and sorry you have to deal with it too.Every place I worked prior to my current job offered at least 6 weeks paid maternity leave plus I had sick time that could roll over from year to year. As I was not interested in having a child during those jobs and babies were not yet on my mind I never thought about asking when I got this new job a couple years ago. However, last year the question started coming up and I asked my employer (which is a small law firm) and they do not offer anything. I guess I always thought it was mandatory that we get at least a month paid because SO many other countries offer great maternity leave plans (if you want to be really bummed check out what the UK and France offer to their employees….it made me sick to my stomach) but when I started researching it I realized infact they are not obligated to pay for anything. Not that I think everything should be given to us and we are entitled just because we are US citizens, but I will not lie that I was surprised. And then I was surprised more how many companies do NOT provided any paid maternity leave to their employees. (the reason this all pisses me off is because I feel the middle class gets screwed many times when it comes to certain benefits…but that is political so I will try to not go there as I am very opinionated!!)This year I actually signed up for short term disability, just incase I was to get pregnant we would have some income coming into us for the time I take off. Plus I would have a little vacation time if I needed it. But I imagine when the time comes I will not be able to take as much time off as I would like. You just have to try to make it work, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a little frustrating.

  8. yep. it totally blows.i was paid 30% of my salary for the first 6 weeks of my leave. we could only afford to do 2 weeks completely unpaid, so i went back to work at week 8. it. was. awful. i love my job, i'm not trying to take advantage of anyone. i work hard. but i think women NEED to be able to take off more time than that when babies are so little. it's also a major reason why people struggle with breastfeeding in this country, it can take up to 8 weeks just to get the hang of it and then BAM, you're gone all day? it's challenging.i'm jealous of europe and canada, for sure. the us has the worst family policies out of every single developing country.

  9. @Josey- I am not sre where we will get the insurance, probably through our local insurance provider. Some of the women I teach with told me about this, and I also read it in the book I have What to Expect Before You're Expecting.

  10. Yeah, the US sucks in terms of this and it really pisses me off. I will have ZERO paid maternity leave and will probably not have much vacation time saved (P will be deploying and I will take 2 full off when he comes home for R & R/mid tour break) when we finally get a BFP. It has me really reconsidering my career options so that I can stay at home and work from home.

  11. On an unrelated side note, I love your live feed bar! Like, I'm kind of obsessed with it. Haha 🙂

  12. This is definitely a problem that's not going to go away any time soon, unfortunately. 🙁 I'm working on reevaluating what I want to do (jobwise) though I live in a TINY town (under 1000 ppl) so job choices are limited. I really need to get something more flexible though. Good luck to any of you trying to make it work with being a mommy & a career woman (or at least, someone who makes some $$ to pay the bills with)! @Pen – glad you like the live feed. i'm kind of addicted to it as well. it's just interesting!

  13. Jos- Don't get me wrong. Norway rocks I would be there in a second if my hubby would go too. Maybe we could become lesbians, you and I can go to Norway together….wait baby making without men is going to be tough. Hahaha. They are legally obligated to hold your job for you. It has to be there even if you took the entire 12 weeks off, but since they would need someone to fill in that time while you are gone, I guess even though they are required by law there are no guarantees. Have you asked your employer about working two or three days a week and then taking your 12 weeks of bonding time a couple days a week? A friend of mine did that. She couldn't afford to take 6 weeks straight unpaid. So instead she worked three days a week using the other two as the bonding time. She said that it doesn't count as dropping below part-time so you wouldn't lose your benefits. Or at least that is how she was able to arrange it with her employer. Smaller businesses are definitely harder to figure out. I agree we need a better system. I am just thinking timeline-wise, it won't happen before you get pregnant. But we should become advocates for a better system in the U.S. Maybe by our second kids we will get what we need.

  14. @Nat – I honestly do NOT think that they are required to hold my job for me – see the "Restrictions" above – my company does not qualify for FMLA rules & regs b/c it's too small. Hazard of working for a small company I guess.Also, I have zero benefits. Small employer and all, so there's no danger of "losing" anything. I pay $400 out of pocket every month for my insurance either way. Ugh, FML sometimes. We'll make it work b/c we'll have to, but it's just frustrating that this is even an issue in our supposedly advanced society!

  15. Get this. I work at a hospital. HOSPITAL. HEALTH CARE.I got about 4 weeks paid time off for my baby, and that is because I scrimped and saved it for nine months and only took a day off when I was retching with the death flu. I took three more unpaid, which put us in a serious financial crunch let me tell you. And still I wasn't ready to go back to work. My baby still needed me! It was awful.We do what we have to do, but man, it does suck, doesn't it?

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