Mothers’ Rights Depend on the State You’re In
Those smart and savvy moms at A Better Balance have written a book that will be your “go to guide” for workplace policies relevant to your pregnancy, maternity leave, and working life as a parent. Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman and Elizabeth Gedmark are the authors of Babygate: What You Really Need To Know About Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace. The book is available now. As you travel the barren wilderness of U.S. family policy, you’ll be referring to it again and again. It’s also perfect for book groups or discussion circles – and you can find questions designed by the authors to spur your conversations about child care, flexible schedules, pregnancy discrimination, and more right here.
Dina, Elizabeth and a very-pregnant Phoebe carved out a few minutes to consider some of my questions – here’s what they had to say!
1. Why do parents need to know their rights at work?
At A Better Balance, we receive calls all the time from parents (and expecting parents) who are confused about what legal protections they have at work regarding pregnancy, parental leave and discrimination. Many have lost a promotion, or a job, and are struggling with how to respond. Parents need to understand what the law does (and does not) provide so that they can advocate for themselves, stay on the job and succeed in the face of bias and barriers that might otherwise hold them back. Families depend on parents’ jobs for critical income—this is about economic security and family well being.
2. How do you explain our failure to have paid maternity leave and other pro-maternal employment policies in the USA?
Our country has consistently viewed family care as a “private” matter to be handled on an individual basis, and has not accepted the care crisis and the costs associated with it as a systemic problem with collective solutions. In a country where universal health care is a hard sell, you can start to understand why we don’t have paid maternity leave or national childcare. Getting pro-family employment policies passed requires changing the culture, getting parents and other citizens engaged to demand better from their elected officials, and educating the public and policy makers about the real economic costs of not addressing these issues. We simply cannot afford to free-ride on families forever.
3. Why do a mother’s rights depend on what state she lives/works in?
Our federal system is designed so that states have the authority to implement laws and policies that are more generous than those passed by Congress. In fact, good ideas often spread from one state to the next and can eventually lead to federal action. For example, state family leave laws helped to inspire passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993. But state laws only reach people living and/or working within their boarders. So, a new mom who lives in New York, but works in New Jersey, can take advantage of New Jersey law to take job-protected time off to bond with her new baby and receive some wage replacement through the state family leave insurance program. But if that same mom lives in New Jersey and works in New York City, she doesn’t have the same rights and may have to rely on the kindness of her employer for maternity leave benefits.
4. Why do you think your book needed to be published at this time?
The media has paid a lot of attention to the challenges of working women, including the recent firestorm over Marissa Meyer, and the debate between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg. Yet despite all this chatter, we are still lacking an informed public debate about how we can restructure our society to advance women in the workplace and support families. We wanted to publish Babygate to help spur a national conversation, by highlighting the ways our laws fall short and featuring real, wrenching stories from workers who do not have the power or influence of a Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. Our advocacy and direct service work also revealed rampant confusion among workers about our country’s patchwork of laws and we saw no central place for parents to learn about their rights. We wanted to provide a resource for parents to arm themselves with the information they need to succeed in the workplace while we work to improve our laws for the long term.
5. How do you envision your book being used by readers?
First and foremost, we hope that Babygate will be a tool for readers to get what they need at work, and help them successfully support and care for their families. It makes a great baby shower gift for the expecting parents in your life! Second, we hope readers will use the book to start a conversation about why our country is the way it is, and what we can do together to change that. We want moms’ groups and book clubs to read this book together and, in the tradition of the consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s, generate some outrage that might convert into action. We’ve posted discussion questions on our website to get people started and we hope they will share their brainstorms with us and get fired up!
Well, I’m certainly fired up. It’s certainly true that most women have no idea what the state laws are regarding pregnancy and family leave until well after they become pregnant. If you don’t know what the law affords, you have no idea how to get what you’re entitled to, or what improvements are needed. You need Babygate just as much as you need … a good night’s sleep!
‘Til next time -
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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