Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post writes this week about the changing rules of paternity leave in other countries, how Finland and Australia have joined many other countries who offer fathers paid leave when their child is born. Finland allows 54 days of paid leave. Australia offers two weeks. Sweden offers a whopping 480 days, Germany a whole year, and so on.
Her beef, as well as the beef of many other expectant parents, is the lacking paternity leave that exists in the US. A few states, ours included, allows for 5-6 weeks at a decreased percentage of a person’s pay. But most fathers, if they want to take time off, must do so under the Family and Medical Leave Act which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
In her article, Belkin marvels that there isn’t a larger outcry over this.
“During a conversation I had with the Danish Minister for Gender Equality recently (a father, by the way, named Manu Sareen) he wondered why Americans, who are such big proponents of rights and freedoms, don’t see this as either of those things. He explained to me how the laws in Denmark differ from those in the U.S. There, mothers get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth, and 14 weeks afterward. Danish fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to an additional 32 weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. In his country, this is seen as “a social good and civil right. “
“We see equal society as equivalent to a sustainable society,” he said, “so that’s why we keep working on it.” Rather than simply a matter of individual child care, which is how it has long been portrayed here, parental leave anchors the family and the economy, he explained: “It is very very effective because it gives a closer relationship between the man and the child and it actually reduces the chance of divorce later, and it also give the woman a better chance for having a career.”
Why then has it been a non-starter for decades here in the US? And how to reverse that?
But the talk about including paternity leave in with maternity leave has business owners shaking in their boots. If this country were to adopt paid leave for fathers who wish to take paid time off to bond with their baby, what would that mean for businesses who must fill the empty slot while their worker is gone?
As one commentor on Belkin’s Facebook page said: “As a business owner, the idea that someone’s salary will be paid while they aren’t contributing to the company — and while they’re gone, I’m paying a temp to replace them — is going to hurt the company. If it hurts my company, it hurts other companies…and will continue to shrink our ever shrinking economy. It seems to me right now we need to be looking for ways to GROW our economy, not continue to suck the lifeblood from it. The more productive we can be as a nation, the more funding will be available.”
What are your thoughts? Should the US follow the suit of other countries in regards to the paternity act, allowing fathers to be fully compensated while they stay home with the mother and their new child? Or is this a luxury our country just can’t afford?