Paid parental leave is truly a bipartisan issue; you don’t have to be a liberal or a feminist or anything else, for that matter, to get behind paid maternal and paternal leave. As Tennessee governor Bill Lee announced in a new executive order this week, “It’s not a partisan decision. It’s an investment in people decision,” The Tennesseean reports. TN is, thrillingly, about to provide its state employees with 90 days paid leave for both new parents and those who need to care for elderly or sick family members — pioneering a remarkably forward-thinking and wide-ranging policy, especially for such a conservative state.
Just to give you a quick recap: Most companies in America give new mothers and fathers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (even though 70% of women report taking only 10 weeks off on average) under the Family Medical Leave Act. The FMLA, though, only applies to firms with over 50 employees. Shockingly, America is the only country in the world that doesn’t require mandatory paid leave. According to a 2018 Mercer survey, 40% of employers now offer some form of paid maternity leave, up from 25% in 2015. Still, as much as there’s a lot more work to be done on the maternity leave front, there’s even more when it comes to paternity leave. Only 9% of worksites in the United States offer paid paternity leave and 76% of fathers are back to work within a week.
The good news is that things are certainly changing in the right direction. Aside from state initiatives like Tennessee’s, companies like Netflix, Microsoft, and Facebook give generous paid leave even though they’re not legally required to. And as of October 2020, government employees will begin getting paid parental leave under the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act: Over two million government employees will obtain up to 12 weeks with their newborn. (Previously, they had to use PTO/”vacation” time or unpaid leave.)
It’s worth noting that “new parents” include those who had a child via birth, adoption, or fostering. There’s a small catch, though, in order to qualify: “Government workers have to establish a year of employment and also must return to work for a minimum of 12 weeks (or equal to the time they took off during their leave) after returning from leave,” Scary Mommy reports.
So, yes, the recent TN news is certainly hopeful — but there is still plenty more work to be done. Government employees aside, everyone should be offered paid family leave. Parents deserve time spent with their newborn or newly adopted child — or, for that matter, with their sick or aging relative — without the added pressure of feeling frantic about finances.
A version of this story was originally published in December 2019.