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When will the United States catch up with the rest of the world on paid maternity leave?

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave to employees.  A U.N. study of 185 countries found that the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Oman are the only countries that do not provide paid maternity leave.  The United States offers unpaid maternity leave in some circumstances but, even if mothers qualify for it, many families cannot afford to go long without the mother’s income.  So, after having a baby, many American families stress and worry about money during a mother’s maternity leave; many mothers must return to work before they or their newborn babies are ready; and many mothers must leave the workforce because they aren’t entitled to maternity leave at all.

Although there is no federal law in the United States that requires employers to offer paid maternity leave, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have laws that require employers to offer mothers some pay during their maternity leaves.  Even so, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid maternity leave.

Even though they are not legally required to, some employers have instituted paid maternity leave policies. These employers include Google and now Vodafone.

For Vodafone, offering paid maternity leave just made sense from a business perspective.  Vodafone announced today that it would offer all of its employees around the world at least 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave.  Vodafone’s new policy also will allow mothers to work 30 hours per week during the six months after they return to work while still collecting their full pay checks.  Accounting firm KPMG analyzed the expected outcomes of this new policy and determined that it would save Vodafone about $19 billion annually because of benefits such as retaining valuable female employees.

“Our Americas workforce is rapidly growing and this new global policy provides our female employees with the flexibility they need after pregnancy while continuing to grow their career with us. We are leading the empowerment of women in the telecommunications industry and are proud to be one of the few companies in the U.S. to embrace this type of maternity leave policy,” said Vodafone’s Americas President.

Similar to the benefits that Vodafone recognized in paid maternity leave, the U.S. economy would also benefit from mandated paid maternity leave.  With paid maternity leave, fewer families would require public assistance because they had children.  Also, labor force participation would increase if it were easier for mothers to work and have children.  Given these benefits, it is hard to believe that we have to continue to wonder when the United States will catch up to the rest of the world on paid maternity leave.