working mom

This Company’s New Maternity Leave Policy Should Be The Blueprint For The US Government’s

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pregnant woman at workOn Friday, telecommunications company Vodafone announced a new minimum standard maternity leave policy, which will be effective at all 30 of the company’s locations around the world. Even if the national maternity leave requirements of the country where a Vodafone location is based are more on the lax side (yeah, I’m looking at you, United States), the company has decided its employees who become pregnant are entitled to a full 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. Paid leave! Huzzah! But they didn’t stop there: for the first six months following an employee’s return to work, she can receive her normal salary for only working 30 hours per week, in order to help ease the incredibly difficult transition from “sleepless baby-rocker” to “productive telecom employee”.

The Washington Post coverage of the change hails this as “[a]n unusual new policy for working mothers”, but it’s really only unusual in the USA. Along with Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea, we’re one of just four countries in the world that fails to mandate paid maternity leave. All working mothers here can count on is 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act–assuming they’ve been working for the company full-time for at least a year and that they can afford to miss three months of salary to stay home with their new baby.

This model of paid leave plus comfortable transition doesn’t just benefit new mothers, either. The policy is the brainchild of Vodafone director Sharon Doherty, who had noticed the discrepancy in retention rates for female employees in “sink or swim” countries like the USA versus European nations that required companies to help with some sort of transition. Interviewing and training new employees has its own price tag attached for a company, and every new candidate you hire can be a bit of a crapshoot. Being able to hang on to talented employees that you know and trust, who might have chosen not to return to work if they had to do it just a few weeks post-partum, is a net gain for the company, too. Four for you, Sharon Dohety!

While Vodafone’s new policy should be lauded as a good way to celebrate this weekend’s International Women’s Day (which originated as International Working Women’s Day, by the way), it’s also worth noting that it only applies to full-time employees. Part-time working moms, under most company policies as well as FMLA itself, don’t have nearly as many options as their middle-class counterparts when it comes to maternity leave, and while it’s important to acknowledge victories, it’s just as important to keep talking about those who are still being left out in the cold. And while it’s great when companies choose to do the right thing by their employees who are working mothers, I’d prefer to have a national policy in place, so that women who aren’t lucky enough to work for one of the good guys have the options they deserve, too.

(Image: Catherine Yeulet / Getty)