There’s been a lot of attention paid in the media recently about prolonged or additional maternity leave for mothers and fathers. Netflix recently announced that it would offer new parents both mothers and fathers, unlimited paid leave during the first year of the birth or adoption of a child. The press release reads: “we work hard to foster a “freedom and responsibility” culture that gives our employees context about our business and the freedom to make their own decisions along with the accompanying responsibility. With this in mind, today we’re introducing an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.”
Then Microsoft announced that it was giving new mothers a total of 20 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child, and a pre-maternity leave option of taking 2 weeks off pre-birth. Last month, IBM initiated a plan to help breast-feeding mothers who are traveling on business ship their breast milk home to their babies free of charge. (It already offers 14 weeks of paid leave to new mothers.)
According to a Today Show story from 2013 “the average maternity leave is about 10 weeks however 50 percent of mother’s only take 5 weeks due to the financial and personal pressure to return to work.”
Now the hot topic is paternity leave so Dads can bond with their children. The “United Nations, 71 countries offer paid leave for new fathers, but the U.S. isn’t one of them. The U.S. also lags behind in paid leave for mothers. In fact, we’re one of only TWO countries in the world that doesn’t offer it. (The other is Papua New Guinea.)”*
In the CBS Sunday Morning episode this past Father’s Day, a segment that featured Dads who take paternity leave after their children are born. Several of the men (obviously not employees of Netflix) profiled worked at companies that did not offer any paternity leave, so they saved and took all of their vacation to use as unofficial paternity leave.
Clearly, this is a travesty and as the “leader of the free world” the US should definitely have better parental leave policies for both mothers and fathers. Of which I am in favor of, for the record…However, as a single and child-free person, what is the equivalent of maternity or paternity leave for child-free employees?
Allow me to elaborate. Parents have decided for the most part to bring a child into the world for a variety of reasons i.e. to celebrate your love with your partner, propagate the species, have someone carry on the family name. All of which I celebrate! Nothing makes me happier than seeing a fat, healthy baby giggling and sucking their toes. But, is it fair that if I choose not to have kids (or can’t in the case of some folks) take any additional time off from work paid for by my employer i.e. maternity/paternity leave except for the vacation, sick and personal days that the Moms, Dads and Singletons alike all get? And often times, be left filling in for said Mom and/or Dad while they are out on leave.
My friend Nancy (her name has been changed to protect her radical singleton views) told me over dinner a couple nights ago, that her company now has a 20 week maternity leave policy. She said, “I’m gonna have to adopt a kid to get some additional company paid for leave.” It was a joke but there is an expectation that your married and/or parent co-workers’ lives take precedent over your single child-free one.
So, if maternity or paternity leave is a benefit that employers are supposed to pay for employees then why not offer a similar option to all employees single, married, parents or not?
The double standard extends to work place in other areas such as quitting time. Parents are able to blow out of the office at a certain time, no matter what to pick up little Johnny or Suzy from daycare or soccer practice; or miss work for piano recitals; doctors’ appointments and clearly with good reason. However, when a singleton leaves on time or needs some flexibility in the work we get the inevitable side-eye or comment about where you could be “rushing off to.”
When I worked in corporate America, the mothers in my department were afforded the opportunity to “work from home” two days a week, I support everyone having a flexible work schedule. Yet the equivalent was never offered to the company as a whole or to non-parents in the department. I often thought about making a stink about it, and I’m sure if I had it would have led to the opportunity being taken away from the mothers, which is not what I wanted. I just wanted the company leave policy to be equal and just for all.
It always bothered me and struck me as unfair and severely shortsighted (and maybe lawsuit actionable) that I as a non-parent and singleton have not been afforded the same opportunity to take leave to celebrate the choices that I’ve made to do whatever I want with the equivalent time AND have the company assume the cost of it. With over 50% of adults in America single, it’s time for these antiquated rules to be revised both for the limited maternal and paternal leave available to parents and provide the equivalent for non-parents.
To make this wrong a right, I suggest a general leave option available to ALL employees that allows opportunity to co-fund the leave in conjunction with the company, and use the designated amount of time for whatever the employee wants to pursue – be it maternity leave, volunteering in a foreign country, writing a book, or finally just being able to spend some actual quality time with your family outside of the few days a year during holidays.
How would you feel about having the opportunity to take a “singularity leave” or “non-maternity” leave for singles? Leave your comments below.
*Information obtained from CBS Sunday Morning clip from June 21, 2015