Massachusetts Maternity Leave Ruling Leaves Moms Cold
According to Salon's Broadsheet, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last week that the state's maternity leave act (MMLA) should stand, leaving mothers who work for a company with less than fifty employees with only two months of unpaid leave after the birth of a baby. The other moms? They're either left with a sum total of zero available weeks of maternity leave if they work for an employer with less than six employees or, if they're lucky and work at an organization with fifty or more employees, are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and a job to which to return under federal law.
The case precipitating this ruling involved a Massachusetts housekeeper for a small telecommunications firm who requested and was promised an extended maternity leave because of a planned c-section. However, while on her extended leave, after 11 weeks, was fired. From the Feminist Wire:
The court ruled that if a Massachusetts woman takes additional maternity leave beyond eight weeks without the express consent of her employer, she will not be protected by MMLA. Women who are promised a longer leave through company policy or collective bargaining and are subsequently fired can sue their employers for breach of contract, reports the Associated Press.
In essence, women in the United States are given very little control over their postpartum lives, settling into motherhood and family life, if they want a paying job to which to return after giving birth. It's worth noting that the United States is one of the only developed nations in the world which does not provide paid family leave to either new mothers or new fathers. There are states that are beginning to acknowledge the deep distress lack of family leave enacts on new parents, let alone an entire society:
California became the first state to enact a paid family leave act in 2002, allowing employees to take 6 weeks leave at 55% salary to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, or sick family member, and every employee is covered, not just those in companies with 50 employees or more.
Washington state has passed legislation to allow for up to five weeks of paid family leave though it won't be implemented until 2012.
But when federal law remains steadfast, in this country, that new mothers don't even deserve any guaranteed unpaid leave from a job, across the board, we're not near where we should be. New mothers end up severely curtailing breastfeeding (although, with health care reform measures in place mandating pumping breaks, this may help breastfeeding rates); they return to work without securing optimal childcare for their babies; they return to work having sucked dry their sick days (if they are lucky enough to receive paid sick days) or vacation days; and they return to work exhausted and anxious about the newborn baby they needed to leave in order to retain the job which has thrown them the barest of benefits courtesy of our federal government.