President-Elect Trump’s Paid Parental Leave Is Only for Mothers After Childbirth

Adoptive parents, dads may not get benefit

By Lisa Petrillo November 10, 2016

​In September, then-candidate Donald Trump unveiled a plan to guarantee six weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers after childbirth.

It does not extend to new fathers, parents who adopt nor those who have children through surrogacy.

A document on the Trump campaign's website states same-sex couples would receive the six weeks of paid leave under the policy only if their marriage is "recognized under state law." This raised the question of whether the leave would apply to single women who give birth. A Trump campaign spokesman told The Washington Post that the policy would extend to single mothers, although he could not explain why a marriage requirement is cited on the campaign's website and in an interview with Trump's eldest daughter, Ivanka.

National Perspective on Paid Leave

As it stands globally, the United States is dead last when it comes to supporting new parents in the workforce.

Donald Trump
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Out of 41 developed countries, the United States is the only nation without some form of national paid parental leave for employees with newborns. That's according to a survey released in February by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a public-policy group representing more than 100 governments.

Paid parental leave lasts more than a year in 10 nations (with Estonia, Hungary and Japan among the most generous). Only 12 of the 41 offer less than 20 weeks, including Israel, New Zealand and Turkey.

Less than 15 percent of U.S. employers offer paid leave, according to the National Partnership on Women and Families, which is part of a consortium of 350 organizations and businesses advocating for paid leave.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Coordinating Leaves of Absence]

Stephen Sweet, Ithaca College professor and chair of the school's sociology department, has studied work and family issues from the perspectives of individuals and institutions. Paid parental leave, Sweet said, "is something we should have without question."

One of the measurable positive outcomes of paid parental leave is the effect on infant health and development, he said. "There's also psychological benefits for the mother to be present with the child in the early months."

Both parents work full-time in nearly half of the U.S.'s two-parent households, according to the Pew Research Center. Further,  the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of all families with children.

Surveys show the U.S. public supports paid leave. In one recent survey, 54 percent supported requiring employers to offer paid family leave benefits. The American Family Survey, with 3,000 respondents nationwide, was conducted by Utah's Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University during July 2016, with results released Oct. 16.

The American Family survey also found that Americans favor paid leave for both parents, an average of four months paid maternity leave and slightly more than two months for paid paternity leave. The majority also advocated paid leave for workers with personal illness or a child's or family member's illness. Although the survey shows Americans agree on the need for paid leave, it also revealed divergent opinions on whether the government or employers should pay for it.

While paid parental leave made its first appearance as a major presidential campaign issue in 2016, the Obama administration has worked to expand access to paid sick time and paid family and medical leave.

"President Obama called for paid family and medical leave in his 2014 State of the Union address and included a $2 billion proposal in his FY2017 budget to support states in starting their own paid family and medical leave programs," Department of Labor (DOL) spokeswoman Patricia G. Moscoso said in an e-mail. She noted that the DOL has funded extensive research and analysis grants on paid family leave since 2014.

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has actively promoted paid family leave legislation with his Lead on Leave campaign, complete with a social media campaign (#LeadOnLeave).

Legislation that would accomplish most of the goals of paid parental or family leave has stalled in Congress. Introduced in 2013 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, is a proposal for paid family and medical leave. 

"To our knowledge, no proposed legislation has ever been limited to only paid parental leave," Moscoso said. "For example, the FAMILY Act proposes paid family and medical leave that workers could use for a variety of caregiving responsibilities like elder care, not limited to taking care of children. The FAMILY Act has yet to come up for a vote in Congress."


States, Employers Take the Lead on Leave


While any national paid parental leave law is still in the making, a handful of states, some large universities and major corporations have already adopted paid family leave.

Currently, three U.S. states mandate paid parental leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. New York passed paid leave legislation earlier this year, although that does not take effect until 2018. All four state programs are funded not by employers but by employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through each state's disability program. 

Apparel maker Patagonia has offered its employees paid family leave for 30 years, a policy the company hails as highly successful. During the past five years, 100 percent of new mothers at Patagonia returned to work after their leave—significantly higher than the 79 percent U.S. average. Women make up about 50 percent of Patagonia's managers and senior leaders.

The need for paid parental leave has hit home among some top executives.

In October, Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of the top-selling yogurt brand Chobani, announced that the company is extending six weeks of paid parental leave to all of its approximately 2,000 employees. Chobani's new policy is universal, available to both men and women, and a rare benefit in the food production industry.

"As a founder and a father, the birth of my son opened my eyes to the fact that the vast majority of America's workers, especially those in manufacturing, don't have access to paid family leave when they have a new child," Ulukaya wrote in an open letter to Labor Secretary Perez that was posted on the DOL's website. "This needs to change and Chobani needed to be part of that change."

Adobe, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Hilton, Netflix and Nike are some of the major companies that have extended some form of paid family leave to all employees.

Paid parental leave is also gaining traction among the nation's universities.

A 2004 survey by the University of Virginia found that just 18 percent of colleges and universities offered a gender-neutral, paid parental leave policy. A survey in 2012 by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that 25 percent of the responding 485 institutions were providing some form of paid parental leave.

At the University of Alabama, paid parental leave started this summer, and already 15 people, men and women, have used the program, said Human Resources Chief Alesia Jones.

The university could have waited to see what the next president does, Jones said, but it decided to take the lead on this issue. "Our administration is proud that we made the conscious decision of living our values; work/life balance is important."

The university is one of the state's largest employers, with more than 20,000 employees. The university policy was a long time coming, said Jones, who was among those who proposed the plan in 2008. She remembered advice another academic gave her: Good ideas don't die; they just have to find the right time.

Jones and other parental-leave advocates found that it would cost an estimated $1.6 million per year for the university and its University Medical Center to finance paid parental leave.

But, Jones noted, there were other costs in not initiating it: the cost of losing employees who don't return after having children and the cost of recruiting new talent in a competitive market, especially as the university medical center faces a nursing shortage, a national problem.

"If we help employees maintain the work/life balance that is important to their well-being, it helps us retain valued employees and ensures that we are more competitive when recruiting," Jones said.

Jones' advice to Trump in adopting a paid parental leave policy: "Make it simple, make it something sustainable." When creating the new parental leave program into basically uncharted territory, she said, the university found it easiest to follow the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enacted by then-President Clinton in 1993. While the FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for parents as well as for illness, Jones said, the university decided to offer up to 12 weeks of paid FMLA-protected leave for employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months.

Lisa Petrillo is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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