More states are joining the effort to require employers to provide paid maternity leave, but the programs seem to be vastly underused, according to Business Insider. A growing number of employers are opting to provide the service even if their states do not require it. But surveys show that the programs are not being used to their potential. For instance, in California, where parental leave will be paid for six weeks at 55 percent salary, only 25-40 percent of eligible mothers use the leave.
The benefits of being paid at least a percentage of income for several weeks to welcome a new family member should be encouraging. Studies show that there are increases in employee morale, healthier babies, better bonding and fewer problems down the road that require state assistance.
So why are employees not taking full advantage of the option? Studies have consistently shown the following as reasons:
People Fear They Will Lose Their Jobs
In some cases, discrepancies between state and federal laws mean that the employee may have to choose between the paid leave and job loss. Gaps between the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which has guaranteed job protection for some, leaves other employees vulnerable. The act ensures job security up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only for those who work at least 1,250 hours per year at businesses with at least 50 employees. Statistics show that more than half of all American workers are employed by small businesses that don’t meet the requirement.
The Possibility Of Negative Career Outcomes Deters Many
Even if they have FMLA assurance that their job will be protected, there is subtle evidence that employers may discriminate against workers who accept the leave. The New York Times reported survey results that showed women, after passage of FMLA, were 5 percent more likely to keep their jobs, but 8 percent less likely to get promotions. Men who take advantage of the leave may get negative performance reviews and there is a perception that workers of either gender are less committed to their jobs if they stay home for awhile after the birth of a child.
Many Workers Are Not Aware That They Are Entitled To Paid Parental Leave
In California, 12 years after the state initiated its paid leave provisions, only 36 percent of workers were aware of the program, according to paidfamilyleave.org. The organization’s survey also showed that those in the age group 18-29, Latinos, less educated workers and those in lower income brackets – those most likely to benefit from the program – were not aware.
The question of paid maternity leave is gaining momentum, but these obvious flaws must be addressed before it will be a viable option for the many Americans who work during the childbearing years.