Maternity, Paternity, and Return to Work Support: Comparing the UK and USA
Having a family is one of the most enjoyable life experiences a person can have. It is also one of the most stressful. Adapting to having a new, all demanding little person with you every hour of every day is incredibly exhausting (and that’s without factoring in the sleepless nights!). Couple that with erratic hormones and you have a recipe for quite a mind-altering shift in normality.
As a new mum, and a UK expat living in Connecticut (CT), people ask me about maternity leave and support offered to new mothers in the UK compared to what is on offer in CT. Many women I speak to believe the maternity leave policies in the USA are detrimental to their mental health and their relationships with their babies. I agree that the support for employees in the US is less than desirable, but I believe the return to work policies in the US are equally detrimental to the employers who live by them.
Here I’ll break down some of the benefits available to mothers and fathers in the UK and USA. I’ll then discuss some of the effects on employers of back to work support for new parents and the support measures employers could put in place to make for an easier back to work transition.
The UK offers women 52 weeks of maternity leave. Many women choose not to take the full 52 weeks, some for financial reasons, some because they wish to return to work to have something to occupy their time outside of the baby, and some because they have career goals they wish to fulfill. Whatever path a woman chooses, the length of time available gives her options.
Statutory maternity leave is available to all new mothers regardless of how long they have held a role. This means your job is kept open during your leave, but you are not necessarily entitled to pay. To receive maternity pay a new mother needs to have held her current job for at least 26 weeks. She must also give at least 15 weeks notice to her employer before starting maternity leave.
In a scenario where the mother and father work, the mother is entitled to up to 39 weeks of paid leave. The first six weeks at 90% pay, the remaining weeks at £140.98 per week or 90% of salary if the mother earns less than £140.98 per week. The UK government taxes these amounts at current rates.
Paternity leave is also available at a maximum of two weeks for the mother’s partner paid at 90% of salary if they earn less than £140.98 per week or at a rate of £140.98 per week.
Shared parental leave is an option in the UK. Shared parental leave allows both parents to share the maternity time, but only one parent can be off at once. This lasts for up to 52 weeks after the baby is born. The leave can be taken in up to three blocks, allowing each parent to alternate their time between work and caring for the baby.
No paid mandatory maternity leave is given to women in the U.S. The Family Medical Leave Act grants 12 weeks of UNPAID leave for mothers of newborns or adoptive parents. This means your employer is required to hold your job, but not to provide any pay for 12 weeks. Many families cannot afford unpaid leave and return to work much earlier than the 12 weeks. Some save their vacation time to cover the time they take off postpartum. However, vacation time in the US is also often limited. In some cases only a week or less of vacation time annually is given to employees.
The support in the US is very minimal. If employers offer back to work support, they could experience:
It will come as no surprise to many reading this that the UK provides infinitely better support post-pregnancy than the US. Although the US is making changes to family support for new parents including increases in maternity leave in some States, these are minimal and not widespread.
The positive impacts of post-pregnancy support are evident for employees and employers. I, for one, hope the US regulations change for the better in times to come. Families deserve to feel they can choose to become parents without being penalized for doing so.
N.B. I believe these facts to be correct at the time of writing this post, but I may have missed some information or made errors. Please feel free to reply with corrections or comments if you have further information on the subject.