Paid Maternity Leave

Mamas on Bedrest: Who is working for Paid Sick Leave

August 12th, 2012

I love getting e-mails from mamas, telling me about their experiences and sharing support and tips. But it always breaks my heart when I receive a letter like the one below. This mama, pregnant with twin boys, should be filled with joy and resting comfortably as she awaits the births of her sons. Instead, she is plagued with worry over her job and how she and her husband will make ends meet. She asked that I share her story so that mamas can be aware and know that they are not alone should their situations mimic hers. She is also asking for support and to learn more about what is being done so that working parents won’t have to choose between their jobs and having the families they so desire. Here is Jill’s story in her own words.

I am so glad I found your website! I am currently 6 months pregnant with twin boys. My husband and I found out I was pregnant two weeks before our wedding-quite a surprise, but a happy one. From the start, it was not an easy time. I suffered from debilitating morning sickness that lasted all day and quickly ate through my sick time.

I had severe bleeding issues that also kept me out. Knowing that as my pregnancy progressed I might run into more issues, I spoke with my boss, who assured me that other employees had been allowed to work from home when faced with a difficult pregnancy. I felt reassured by this information, although I hoped the worst was behind me.

Of course the babies had other ideas. This last week, I had violent vomiting and dizzy spells. My blood pressure rose and dropped. My doctor ordered I.V. fluids and modified bed rest. I called my human resources department who could not give me any real answers. I called my boss who informed me that a temp would be have to be found to fill my position and that working from home would not be a solution as it had not been successful in the past. Furthermore, there were too many projects going on and they would need to have all hands on deck. “I’m not telling you this to feel badly”, she finished.

Too late.

While I do have 13 weeks of short term disability (at 66% of my usual pay) I really wanted to be able to use all of that for my maternity leave. I feel misled by my employer and that I have committed career suicide by getting pregnant. I am anxious and depressed. I don’t have the option of leaving work- our rent depends on my salary.

I started to wonder what organizations were out there as I imagined this could not be an isolated event. I already knew that the United States has no universal coverage that truly supports all women during pregnancy and maternity leave. I wanted to share my experience- although I know there are families out there in a worse position- and learn more about ways I could help implement change. Thankfully I am only on bed rest for one week but anything can happen in the next three months. None of us should have to choose between our babies and our job.

Jill
Jill,

There are several organizations working tirelessly to end this untenable choice that far too many families are forced to make. The first that comes to mind is the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF).  The National Partnership is a leader of the Healthy Families Act Coalition, which advocates for passage of a national paid sick days standard through public education, mobilization and advocacy in order to secure paid sick days for tens of millions of Americans.

Another advocacy group is MomsRising. MomsRising is a network of people just like you, united by the goal of building a more family-friendly America. They work with various public health and policy organizations to make raise awareness of issues that affect women, children and families. You can view advocacy work for families by visiting their website and looking under the M-O-T-H-E-R-S button which stands for their major activities:

Maternity/Paternity Leave

Open/Flexible Work

Toxic Free Families

Health Care for All

Early Care and Education

Realistic and Fair Wages

Sick Days, Paid

Another advocate for paid family leave is Working Mother Magazine. Working Mother is working with NPWF to gain passage of a national law providing paid family leave. They are on the forefront advocating for equal pay for equal work and paid family leave.

Finally, MotherWoman is a non-profit organization in Massachusetts working to not only provide support to moms battling post partum depression, but also moms who are suffering economic hardship and personal hardship as a result. Their mission:

MotherWoman supports and empowers mothers to create positive personal and
social change for ourselves, our families, our communities and the world.

These are but a few of the organizations working tirelessly to help working mothers and working families not be financially penalized because of illness. I am sure that there are numerous other organizations out there fighting the good fight, but these are a few of the larger, more active and/or more vocal organizations of which I know. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, just those that I know of first hand.

We hope that this helps you Jill, and any other mama looking to find out how to become involved in the paid family leave battle.  And it is a battle. Many in congress don’t believe in paid family leave and are doing all that they can to block the efforts of groups advocating for paid leave. Get involved and if there are other organizations out there, please share your information at info@mamasonbedrest.com and how we can support you!

Mamas on Bedrest: What You Need to Know About Short Term Disability Insurance

June 15th, 2012

Most companies in the United States do not provide paid maternity leave benefits for their employees. To date, only California has a law enacted that requires employers to provide paid family leave.  New Jersey and New York  each have short term disability programs modeled on California’s law.  So one can see, the amount of time off and whether or not a woman will be paid when she is on maternity leave will vary greatly from state to state and company to company.

Most companies will comply with the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)which requires employers of 50 or more employees to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while having a baby, for adoption of a child or to care for an ill family member or themselves with guaranteed job security. Unfortunately this time is usually insufficient for mamas who go on prescribed bed rest and are out of work sometimes for as much as 4-5 months! While there are a few companies out there that do offer up to six weeks of paid leave, these companies are somewhat rare. So in the US, when a couple is expecting a baby and chooses to spend time in the early post partum bonding with that baby, both mother and father utilize a combination of sick days, unpaid leave days, vacation days, personal days and short term disability insurance benefits (if they are eligible for them) in order to get the time off that they need and to still meet their financial needs.

So what exactly is short term disability? Short term disability works by giving employees a portion of their salary for a set amount of time when they are unable to work at their jobs. This amount of salary can range from 50 percent to 100 percent of what the employee would normally earn if he or she were working at full capacity.

If you live in a state that provides short term disability insurance, you’re probably already paying into the system as one of the automatic deductions from your paycheck. If you want to take advantage of these benefits, contact your company’s human resources department and learn about the eligibility requirement and what forms and applications you must submit in order to receive the benefits. 

Mothers and fathers who don’t have short term disability insurance that is state- or work-provided and who don’t get paid time off can obtain a short term disability plan from a private insurance company. While many people see this as an unnecessary expense and opt not to purchase a personal policy, we mamas on bed rest know first hand how an unexpected medical situation such as bed rest can have major impact on one’s employment life and financial stability. Personal short term disability plans can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand dollars a year depending on your age, state of residence and occupation. And while the monthly premiums may seem like a “waste of money” just a few weeks on bed rest, hospital bed rest in particular, will quickly make the premiums a worthwhile expense.

As with anything, before you purchase a short term disability policy do your homework. Make sure your insurance company/policy actually classifies maternity leave as a type of “disability.” Many insurance companies require the recipients to be employed for more than 30 hours a week and be between the ages of 18 and 61. You’ll also want to make sure that there isn’t a probationary period that must elapse before benefits are paid out. For example, you may be able to purchase the policy while you are pregnant or even on bed rest, but if there is a probationary period of 6-12 months, you may not be able to receive the benefits during the time when you need them.

Your company’s Human Resources department can be helpful in explaining the company’s policies for short term disability insurance and unpaid leave. The  US Department of Labor also has several resources that parents-to-be can utilize to better understand the Family Medical Leave Act and to see if disability or unemployment plans are available in their state.

We’re here to help. When mamas sign up for our semi-monthly newsletter, they receive a full report entitled, “What Every Working Woman Needs to Know About Paid Maternity Leave in the United States.” The report is part ofthe Bedrest Success Kit, a free gift every mama receives for signing up for our semi-monthly newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter, simply fill out the area in the upper right hand corner of this web page or visit www.mamasonbedrest.com. And by all means, feel free to post questions or comments on this post below or submit them to info@mamasonbedrest.com.

Mamas on Bedrest & Beyondwould like to thank June Owensboro for her contribution to this blog post. June is a freelance writer for Term Life Insurance and loves reading and hiking.

Mamas on Bedrest: The Best and Worst Countries for Mamas

May 11th, 2012

A lot of mamas are still dying in childbirth globally and many children won’t see their first birthdays. It’s a shocking truth. While watching the Newshour on PBS the other evening they had a report on the best and worst countries for moms. I already know a lot of this information, but I love to listen to reports and glean whatever new information that I can. Reporter Gwen Ifill interviewed Carolyn Miles, President of the non-profit organization Save the Children and Ms. Miles provided some really good nuggets of information that I’ll share and summarize.

At the top of the list is Norway, which has one of the highest rates of contraceptive use in the world and one of the most generous maternity-leave policies among developed nations. Women in Norway are highly educated and well represented in government. The country also boasts the highest female-to-male income ratio and is tied for the second-lowest under-5 mortality rate among developed countries.

At the bottom of the list is the African Nation of Niger. In Niger, only one in three births are attended by skilled health personnel. In addition, the country is currently in the midst of a “worsening hunger situation, threatening the lives of a million children”. Compared to Norway where women attend school for an average of 18 years, girls in Niger only attend only four years of formal schooling during their lifetime. Women in Niger have no economic or political power.
Rather than give a rundown of the best and worst countries (For a full list of each country and its ranking is available here.), I want to share the criteria Save the Children used in determining what made a country a great place for a mama and what made a country not so great for a mama. In all, Save the Children evaluated 165 countries and found that the following categories determined whether or not a country was a good or bad place for mothers and their babies.  (FYI, The United States Ranked #25)
  • Infant/Child Mortality. Many countries have staggering infant and child mortality rates. In Niger for example,virtually every mother will lose a child before the age of 5. This is primarily due to malnutrition and lack of health care resources. Unfortunately, children in the poorest countries will die from some of the most easily treatable diseases because they are malnourished and lack access to health care when they do in fact become ill.
  • Maternal Mortality. Many mothers worldwide are dying in childbirth or as a result of complications from childbirth. In the United States, One in 2,100 births result in the death of the mother which is a shocking statistic given the resources in this country. However, despite our vast resources, many women and children live in poverty in the United States and poverty is a strong indicator of mortality in both mothers and babies worldwide. In the US, the big gap in health care that’s available for well-off women vs. very poor women is the driving force behind the maternal (and infant) mortality numbers.
  • Economic Empowerment. It’s a known fact, when women can earn a living wage, they fare better and so do their children. In countries where women are able to earn a substantial income-nearly equal to that of a man, her health goes up and her mortality (risk of early death) goes down.
  • Education of Women and Girls. It stands to reason that if women aren’t educated, they cannot attain high paying jobs, cannot earn a living wage and cannot support themselves and their children. It’s a vicious cycle. In countries like Norway where women are highly educated, we see women economically secure and thriving. In countries like Mali, Afghanistan and Niger, where education of women and girls is scanty at best, we see a high rate of maternal and infant mortality and and those women and children that are “surviving” are living in abject poverty. Ms. Miles added,
    “The longer you keep girls in school, the longer they delay having their first child. And that child will be much healthier. A girl who has a baby at 14 is a much higher risk pregnancy, and her baby is at much higher risk of death, than a girl who gets pregnant at 17 or 18.  If she stays in school, it’s much more likely she’ll she’s going to wait until she’s older. That’s why education of girls is so important.”
  • Political Involvement. In countries where women are allowed to be involved in the setting of political and social policies, women are doing much better. No surprise. When you have no representation, you have no voice and no way of making your needs known.
  • Access to HealthCare. When women have readily accessible access to health care, their health and the health of their children is markedly improved. According to Ms. Miles, one of the reasons that Afghanistan was able to move from 165th to 164th is because of a surge in community health clinics.  “And a lot of these health centers are in the places where moms and babies do die, kind of at the end of the health system, if you will, at the end of the road, really remote areas where these moms are oftentimes giving birth at home. So, having a health clinic close at hand really saves lives.”
  • Maternity Leave. We also know that when women are allowed time off to give birth, recuperate from that birth and spend time with their babies bonding and breast feeding, both mothers and babies do well. One of the reasons that the United States ranked 25th in the Save the Children report is because of it’s poor maternity leave policy.”The report also notes that the U.S. has one of the least generous maternity leave policies of any wealthy nation. It is the only developed country — and one of only a handful of countries worldwide — that does not guarantee paid leave for working moms. Instead, by law, new mothers get 12 weeks of unpaid leave.”

We now know what it takes to make mamas and babies healthy. Now its time to implement these practices globally. It’s being done very successfully in many countries and very poorly in many more. Let’s hope that this new knowledge will bring forth improved standards of living and care for women and babies.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!