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United States still behind on parental leave policy

The Family Medical Leave Act was passed in the 1990s to as a part of the effort to protect women from workplace discrimination and from wrongful termination when they choose to take maternity leave. We've covered those issues before on this blog because new parents are still facing plenty of challenges in the workplace. One of the major challenges is the availability of paternity leave.

Technically, fathers can take paternity leave under the FMLA for up to 12 weeks each year. However, because the law doesn't require that the leave be paid, many parents simply can't afford to have both spouses take time off.

Yet, many other high-earning countries do provide for paid leave for both parents. In fact, among 21 high-income countries that were examined in a recent report, the United States ranked 20th in terms of parental leave policies designed for couples.

The FMLA provides for unpaid leave and protects the jobs of new parents who take time off to care for a baby. However, paid leave is rare and at the discretion of the employer or a state-run program. When paid leave is offered, the leave offered for dad is often not equal to that offered for moms.

Another issue that factors into parental leave decisions is the relative earnings of each parent. Women still make an estimated 77 cents for every one dollar that men make, and families often choose to keep the higher wage earner at work.

Advocates for paid parental leave say that the cost of leave for both parents shouldn't be a concern. The average family has two kids, meaning that most workers will take 24 weeks of paid leave at most over the course of their careers.

Source: MSNBC, "Paid paternity leave benefits dads and moms - and we can afford it" Rose Gordon Sala, June 15, 2012.

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