United States lags in paid leave for family support

According to a report created by Human Rights Watch, the United States lags behind 178 other countries that have mandatory paid time off after childbirth. While the United States does have the Family Medical Leave Act, the federal law only offers unpaid leave rights for new parents. In the United States, state laws may supplement the federal Family Medical Leave Act by providing additional time off or paid time off for eligible workers. Regarding federal law, the Human Rights Watch report entitled, “Failing its Families” says the United States is an “outlier” when it comes to paid maternity leave.

Human Rights Watch normally reviews the policies and investigates circumstances in foreign countries, but this time the non-governmental organization has focused its efforts on reviewing the lack of paid leave time for American families. The issue affects millions of Americans and the lack of paid time off for medical and family issues forces some families on welfare, creates debt and causes mothers to stop breast-feeding early.

According to the report, around 178 countries have a national law that provides paid time off for new mothers. The United States makes the list of a small number of countries that do not have such a law. Others on the small list include Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. The United States also lags behind other developed countries regarding paid time off for new fathers. Over 50 countries have paid leave for new fathers.

The United States does have a national law that offers time off for new parents, but the Family Medical Leave Act does not provide paid time off and only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. Therefore the law does not provide unpaid leave time to a large number of working Americans. Two states, California and New Jersey, have their own state versions of the law and provide paid time off. While both states have severe budget problems the programs are self-sufficient and are successful because the law is completely financed by small payroll tax contributions by workers.

Source: The Associated Press, “Report decries lack of paid parental leave in U.S.” 2/22/11

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