Last week, Marissa Mayer, one of Google's earliest hires and most famous
faces, announced that she will leave Google to become the new CEO of Yahoo.
She also announced that she and her husband are expecting a baby in the
next several months. At first glance, Ms. Mayer's move could be seen
as a great sign of workplace progress – she is a young woman taking
the top post at a major American corporation on her own merits. However,
many who initially cheered the news of Ms. Mayer's new CEO role were
later disappointed and concerned by the additional information that she
will take only a few weeks of maternity leave, and intends to work while on leave.
In so doing, Mayer may have helped to undermine the already fragile right
of parents in the U.S. to take leave to care for a newborn or a newly
adopted child. The worry is that employers, aware of Ms. Mayer's unrealistic
example, may now ask an expectant parent who requests maternity leave
why she can't also work while on maternity leave, and why she needs
the full 12 weeks? And will she at least be checking email?
It is a massive understatement to say that Ms. Mayer's situation is
unlike that of most women in the workplace - after all, she is estimated
to be worth $300 million earned during her time at Google, and her future
pay at Yahoo may reach $70 million. With that kind of wealth, Ms. Mayer
will be able to afford a staff of nannies and other kinds of assistance
to help keep her household and family running. Frankly, people as wealthy
as Ms. Mayer don't even need to work.
For the rest of us who do, however, the dilemma of how to balance work
and childrearing, especially when a new baby joins the family, can be
a difficult and sometimes impoverishing struggle.Unlike nearly every other
country in the developed world, the United States does not require employers
to provide paid maternity leave. In EU countries, new parents get months
(if not years) of paid maternity leave, and often also receive support
payments from the government. Furthermore, in some EU countries, the social
safety net extends to providing high quality, low cost child care to all,
regardless of income.
By contrast, under the Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA], American employees
who have worked for an employer for at least one year are entitled to
take only twelve weeks of
unpaid maternity or paternity leave. (The FMLA also protects employees who need
unpaid leave to recover from or undergo treatment for their own serious
health conditions.) Employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to return
to their positions, or to substantially similar positions, after the twelve
weeks of leave is up. If an employer violates these rights, the employee can sue.
Federal employees have the right to substitute accrued paid leave, if available,
when they take Family and Medical Leave. However, unless they are covered
by union contracts that include family and medical leave provisions, Federal
employees are in the same boat as private sector employees, with no right
to paid maternity or parental leave. Parents are on their own at crafting
child-care solutions, with only the occasional tax credit to help. The
FMLA is certainly better than nothing, but raising kids while trying to
earn a living is still a rather Darwinian exercise in the U.S.
At The Federal Practice Group, we recognize the critical importance of
the FMLA and other legal protections for working parents - especially
working mothers, who bear a disproportionately large share of the national
child care and housework burden. Day in and day out, parental protections
are under constant assault in the workplace. We believe these rights,
and the careers of working parents, deserve a vigorous defense when threatened
or violated. If you believe that you have suffered adverse treatment in
the federal workplace due to having taken maternity leave or having child
care responsibilities, please contact us to discuss the facts of your case.