New Trend in Maternity Leave

pink baby showerHere’s a headline that caught our eye: “Donating vacation time to new moms is a trendy co-worker baby shower gift.” That’s right, according to Good Morning America, it is becoming more popular for employers to allow their employees to donate their paid time off to their pregnant coworkers to allow them to have a longer maternity leave.

Some readers may remember that the Delaware General Assembly recently passed a bill that gives full-time state and public school employees (who have been employed with the state for at least one year) 12 weeks of paid maternity leave when they give birth to a child or adopt a child under the age of 6. But employees in other states and the private sector may not be as lucky.

Nebraska has recently enacted a new policy allowing state employees to donate their vacation days to coworkers to use specifically for maternity leave. Jason Jackson, the chief human resources officer to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, touted the benefits of this new program he developed with an expectant mother working in the Governor’s office.  Jackson told Good Morning America that Nebraska wanted to, “enable women and expectant mothers to be able to better balance their career in public service and continue their career in public service while also being able to provide care for their child in those first weeks after childbirth.” He also noted that a program that relies on donations of time, rather than specifically built-in time for maternity leave, does not require a bump in taxes.

Putting the onus of providing paid maternity leave on the generosity of your employees raises an eyebrow, to be sure. While this Nebraska program came at no cost to taxpayers or the state, Jackson characterized the time workers were giving away as time that would be “lost if not used.” If you look at the donated time as spare time that a worker was not going to use anyway, this plan makes sense. But some workers may have planned to use their paid time off and will feel pressured into donating a portion of their time.

The program is anonymous, but it does seem to put an unusual burden on employees. It also rewards those new moms who get pregnant sooner than others. By the time another pregnancy comes around, coworkers might not be in a position to be as generous.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the United States is the only one out of 42 countries listed that does not require any paid maternity leave. The data they used was based on the federal level, and does not reflect that certain states have passed their own legislation regarding paid maternity leave.

While there is no reason to believe that we will be seeing legislation in support of universal paid maternity leave from Congress at any time in the near future, employers should carefully consider the ways in which they can provide financial support to new parents, including short-term disability leave policies, paid vacation or sick leave, or paid parental leave policies. In the drive for employee wellness, morale, and retention, this is a benefit that makes a significant different among job applicants.