AI: Maternity Leave

In the UK, maternity leave is 52 weeks. A year off after having a baby, the first 39 weeks of which are paid for by your employer. In addition, the mother is entitled to 13 weeks unpaid leave until the child is five. That is of course incredibly fantastic for the mother and child, and a very good incentive for large companies who want to encourage valued female staff to return to work after, but a minefield for small companies like mine.

In theory, if I employed a woman who became pregnant, and she decided to take the full year off, I would be able to afford to pay the maternity leave because that is budgeted for in her salary, but probably wouldn’t be able to afford to replace her for that time. Why? Because short-term contracts in skilled roles command a much higher rate than permanent salaries. You swap job security and longevity for a greater short-term return. I’d be paying the new mother’s maternity leave for 39 weeks (I’d get that back from the government, and in some cases some compensation, but I’d still make a loss), and probably double that for 52 weeks for an equally experienced and skilled temp, plus my recruitment and HR costs on top. I could pay more than the minimum statutory maternity leave, but that wouldn’t be paid back by the government. But of course, in recruitment terms, I am more likely to attract decent candidates if I offer a generous maternity package.

If I hired someone unskilled at a lower rate for a 12-month contract, I couldn’t afford to take the time out to train them up to standard, and couldn’t afford the risk if they turned out to be no good. Equally, I couldn’t afford to be without someone in that role for a year. So what do I do? There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many small companies in my position simply avoid employing women of child-bearing age. I am not a jerk, and wouldn’t discriminate that way, but I do have to protect my business over and above the “nice-to-have” ideal of supporting a member of staff after she has a baby. It hasn’t happened yet, partly because I don’t employ any permanent full-time staff (my staff are all freelancers), but as my company grows and I become closer to bringing in permanent staff, I am aware that the impact on my business would be greater than the benefit of supporting the employee through the first year of her child’s life. This is a dilemma. I would not legally be allowed to make that employee redundant, unless I could prove it was for reasons other than the pregnancy. Neither would I want to – if I employ someone I’d like it to be for a long time, through whatever lifestyle choices that person makes. Such working relationships are invaluable, and I’m not a jerk. But having a member of staff away for a year could be crippling in many ways, and I am not the only small-business owner to express concerns. I’ve yet to find a solution to this I’m comfortable with. While very generous maternity rights help women work whilst having families, they also encourage small employers to discriminate based on risk. Such discrimination is wrong and illegal, but I can see why it happens. If the individual employer was free to offer a maternity package based on its own factors, then the market would decide. If it was a crappy package, the company would fail to attract certain candidates. But if the basic salary was higher as a reflection, then they might attract, for example, women like me who don’t plan to have children. I’d happily give up rights I don’t intend to use in return for a greater remuneration. I still can’t decide if that would be worse than the status quo, though.

Are maternity leave rights too generous, not generous enough, or should they be up to the individual employer?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. In the US it is largely up to the employer and seems to work out rather well. I have heard of incidents of discrimination against hiring women of child bearing years, but it is fairly rare. It has certainly not occurred at any place I have worked.

    I think this is a place where the free market should really decide. I have a buddy who wanted to ride his motorcycle for three months. The HR department said “no” to his request for leave of absence. At that point he decided that riding his bike was more important so he quit. When he was done he reapplied and was hired instantly. Each party operated in their own best interest and in the end everyone got what they wanted. I’m not sure why child bearing should be any different.

  2. I think that all parents should have parental leave. I can understand that women might get one or two weeks extra, due to the necessity of physical healing, but I don’t see why fathers shouldn’t also be given leave and expected to use it.

  3. Maternity rights in the US, as I understand it, are almost non-existent. In Canada, women are able to take a one-year maternity leave, covered through government employment benefits. As far as I know there is no requirement to allow ongoing unpaid leaves for the first five years.

    This is a tough dilemna for smaller businesses. My sister lives in the UK, and I’ve even wondered how small businesses can deal with the number of weeks vacation you have to deal with there.

    I do think the UK maternity benefits are onerous for businesses, and they certainly do lead to exactly the type of discrimination you mention. It makes hiring women of childbearing years considerably more expensive than men (somewhat ironic considering the complaint than women are paid unequally).

    Your suggestion of a market solution may work, in the same way that I understand many large companies use vacation policies as a big part of their recruiting methods.

  4. davew:
    I agree, when governments start dictating the specific composition of compensation packages they generally do more harm than good.

    In fact its entirely possible that the entire gender pay gap in most countries (once you measure it properly) is due to a motherhood penalty caused by less work experience and more parental leave.

    Its telling that one of the few countries where the gender pay gap favours women is Singapore which has compulsory military training for men in a specified age range. The time Singaporean men have to take off lowers their pay, just as one would expect.

  5. In the US, you get 12 weeks, unpaid, if you want more time, that’s up to your employer, but they then have the right to replace you permanently. That applies to both mothers and fathers and for families who are adopting as well.

    Some companies pay it, some don’t, but short term disability insurance(if you have it) helps cover the time while you are physically unable to work… usually 6 weeks.

  6. Canada has a 52 week paid leave as well, funded by employee and employer contributions to our employment insurance system. It doesn’t pay much, but enough that most take the full allotment.

    Paid leave to take care of wee kiddies benefits society – unless we all think kids should immediately be sent to daycare. But that cost should be shared, not solely carried by employers, as everyone benefits. Kind of like school, we all benefit from an educated workforce, we all benefit from kids who have parents with enough time to actually raise them.

    I like the idea and the practice of supporting parents who want to have a baby and actually spend more than a few weeks with it full time!

  7. @Andrew Nixon:

    Oh, I know that fathers don’t get the same benefits. I was saying that they should. Two weeks in the UK is better than the US. When my niece was born, but brother was allowed to take off work for one day.

  8. @teragram42:

    Paid leave to take care of wee kiddies benefits society – unless we all think kids should immediately be sent to daycare.

    Is there evidence that letting kids go to daycare at a certain age is worse for a society than waiting until a later age? I don’t have any data handy, but I thought that it doesn’t really make much difference after about 3 months.

  9. @catgirl:

    I don’t know how high quality the research on this is, and how much is people’s “gut feel”, which is not a good basis for policy.

    That said, it’s hard to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended 6 months if you’re working full time. Our leave used to be 6 months, not sure if the increase to 12 was evidence based or not.

    Happily, fathers can take up to 35 weeks of the leave.

  10. It should be increased and it should remain manditory and be enforced more vigourously.

    @andyinsdca: How could a single employee ever hope to negotiate a fair and equitable deal with their employer when their relationship is not one of equals. The employer “holds all the cards”? Any such deal would be heavily weighted in favour of the employer (especially in the current economic climate) and doubtless in short order there would be a race to the bottom leaving women with little or no maternity leave.

    The idea that a crappy package would not attract people is fallacious. It’s a pecularity of the hoxton bourgeoise bohemian that people work, not as a means of subsistance, but as a means of self expression.

    While there can be a great deal of satisfaction in a job well done. Don’t think for a second that the vast majority of people have the option not to work if the offer isn’t good enough. Ordinary people take whatever job they can they then fight for improved pay and conditions.

    “Letting the Market decide” is bourgeois code for “We should be able to use are wealth to screw the workers”.

    Matternity Leave is the classic petty-bourgeois business dilemma. On the one hand the bourgeoisie benifit from the future workers that will be produced by the current generation (and doubly so if those workers were well raised by attentive carers) but on the other their is an immediate cost to them individually through the temporary “loss” of the excess labour-value that would have been generated by those workers who have children.

  11. @teragram42:

    Isn’t pumping and storing breast milk as good as breastfeeding directly? I think that companies should provide rooms, breaks, and refrigerators for pumping breast milk regardless of their maternity leave policies.

    You’re really lucky on the leave for fathers. The United States is really far behind other countries when it comes to parental leave in general, but especially for fathers.

  12. I was raised at home, by my mom, and am really grateful for that, although I don’t know anyone who is dysfunctional as a result of NOT being raised at home by their mom in their baby years. If your earning potential is greater than the cost of daycare or a nanny or whatever, and you want to work, I don’t have an issue with going straight back into your job.

    I don’t want kids, however, and one of the main reasons for that is because if I had kids, I would want to be at home with them all day, and that’s less attractive to me than running my company.

    I wouldn’t want to do both, because I’d never see my kids. So I choose career. At some point I may re-prioritise. I am only 33, so not entirely out of the running yet. Plus, I don’t like kids, and I do like business. At the same time, I fully support other women’s decision to choose kids instead of a career, or choose to juggle both, and I realise that such choices are good for society in general, but society in general is not the concern of my company. If I was running Microsoft or some other huge entity, I’d have the most generous, exciting, attractive maternity and paternity packages in the world, because people who choose to have kids shouldn’t have to choose to sacrifice their career too unless they want to. But while I’m running My Tiny Business (not its actual name), I am not inclined to offer that level of societal altruism at the expense of my company’s health. In other words, I want it to not be MY problem if an employee chooses to have a child, but as the law stands, it is. It’s only a problem, too, there is (as covered in my post), no benefit to my business as it stands. Being away for a year would mean that employee would have a very hard time on her return because she’d have to catch up and possibly retrain (for example web development skills need constant updating, a lot changes in a year). I don’t have the resources to support that, and in all honesty (apologies if this does make me sound like a jerk), I don’t have the inclination to support it either, not while I’m working 18 hour days, seven days a week to make the company a success.

    Trouble is, the British Govt is inclined to give more rights, not take any away, so I don’t see the situation changing at any point.

  13. @teragram42: They could just hand the baby over the nanny after the end of their week away from the call centre.

    Of course wealthy women will be able to spend all their, many, leasure hours spending quality time with their children as is right and proper.

  14. @russellsugden: Funny!

    I found this article, in googling for evidence for early daycare’s impacts:

    In a nutshell – more than 10 hours a week = correlated to problems later. It’s a really tough choice for parents. And a real dilemma for small business. I don’t have the answer – we were lucky, my husband stayed home. Cheaper than a second car + daycare costs!

  15. @russellsugden:

    Where did that come from? My comment was about daycare. I think that high-quality, affordable childcare should be available so that women don’t have to strap their kids to their backs. And why do you think I care about profits? What have I said that would make you think that?

  16. @catgirl: My husband was allowed to take FMLA when I had my baby. He obviously couldn’t take the short time disability, but at least I had him home with me for three weeks.

  17. @Tracy King: “Trouble is, the British Govt is inclined to give more rights, not take any away, so I don’t see the situation changing at any point.”

    Goddammn that government, giving the drones, er I mean, people Rights.

    I can see your dilemma; on the one hand you want all the benifits of conducting business in a civilised country but on the other having a civilised country means you giving up some of your profits. “We’re all in it together”, except the boss class don’t want to pay their share.

    Dysfunction passed on through circumstances? Hmm, How many ASBOs were handed out this year? Just because you don’t know anyone f*cked up by the system doesn’t mean they don’t exsist.

    Perhaps you chose to ignore the homeless people of London, perhaps you think they brought it on themselves. I grew up in South Leeds in the streets where the 7/7 grew up and lived (see link)

    Of course the conditions people grow up in effect them.

  18. @Tracy King: I don’t have the resources to support that, and in all honesty (apologies if this does make me sound like a jerk), I don’t have the inclination to support it either, not while I’m working 18 hour days, seven days a week to make the company a success.

    You do not sound like a jerk. You sound like you are well informed on both sides the issue. I almost didn’t comment because after your interesting discourse on the subject the actual question was almost redundant.

  19. I understand that in most of Europe there is a much higher level of maternity leave and compensation than the U.S. . I don’t know if there is causal correlation but the percentage of women in executive and cooperate managerial positions in the US is significantly higher than any and all European Countries. So if there is some causation then I’d say the lower level of mandatory leave in the US is a better way of doing things.

  20. @catgirl: Pumping is not easy for a lot of women. It’s an option for some, but not for many. Plus, for a decent pumper, it can cost you quite a bit.

    Also, some women want the experience of breastfeeding their babies, and they should be allowed to have that.

  21. @catgirl: Pumping is way harder than feeding. Yes, it can and should be done – but it is so time consuming and unpleasant most switch to formula.

    I do know some women who managed that. Kudos to them. I’d have ended up hating my boobies.

    Yeah! I got to say boobies!

  22. @russellsugden: Well, no, they’re not giving “people” rights, they’re giving new mothers rights at the expense of small business owners. Why do new mothers get more rights than I do? You think working your ass off all day and night for years and years to build a business should not be rewarded with a profit which should then be protected for the good of ALL employees in the company? Why should I risk my business because an employee chooses to have a child?

    As for the rest of your rant about dysfunction, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You appear to be equating “mommy went back to work when I was one year old” with “social misfit”. I’m not sure what point you’re addressing with that. I said that I wasn’t aware of anyone who struggled because their mother went back to work, I didn’t say such people didn’t exist.

    You seem to be disproportionately angry about this topic, any particular reason? Certainly, small business owners like myself aren’t the evil corporate bastards you seem to be trying to paint us as, and given the rate at which small businesses go bankrupt in this country and the level of discrimination women of childbearing age experience (including the salary differences mentioned by other posters), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to address one of the issues which may be contributing to those problems.

  23. I’d be paying the new mother’s maternity leave for 39 weeks (I’d get that back from the government, and in some cases some compensation, but I’d still make a loss), and probably double that for 52 weeks for an equally experienced and skilled temp

    Forgive my naïveté in areas of business, but it would seem sensible to me that if the gov’t is going to be reimbursing you anyway, it might be wise if it also helped offset the difference between the cost of the temp and the on-leave employee’s salary.

  24. Speaking as a father in the US, it’s crap. Fortunately for us my wife is a stay at home mom. But she sure could have used more help than the one week of vacation time I was able to take. Most companies in the U.S. have no time off for the father and max of 6 weeks for the mother (paid).

  25. What the Government should do is require insurance companies to make maternity insurance available to all employers at the same rate per employee regardless of the proportion of their employees that are “women of child-bearing age”. Large employers can effectively self-insure; if you have five hundred employees you can accept that such-and-such a proportion will be on maternity leave at any given time, and they won’t all be away at once. But if you have five, then one pregnancy is a problem and two would be crippling.

    Sure, it’s an insurable risk at the moment, but if you employ 20 women aged 25-35 your rates will be a lot higher than employing 20 women aged 45-55 – which means we haven’t removed the incentive to discriminate when employing people.

  26. @Tracy King: “Why should I risk my business because an employee chooses to have a child?”

    Having a child isn’t a choice to some like not having a child was a choice for you.

    Also, many women who do have children can’t afford daycare. “Daycare exists!!” isn’t really an argument, since it’s expensive and decent daycares aren’t always available.

  27. @Aaron: Some small businesses qualify for a 4.5% ‘compensation’, but for skilled roles that would be nowhere near enough to cover the salary difference. As an example, it costs around £6000 to advertise, interview, recruit, process (HR etc) and train a new employee. Then there’s the salary, which as mentioned can be up to twice as much for a temporary contract in my industry as a permanent role. The government only reimburse the Statutory Maternity Pay, so if I wanted to pay the new mother her full salary while she’s away, I have to make up the difference myself.

  28. @marilove: “Having a child isn’t a choice to some like not having a child was a choice for you.”

    Well sure, but why does that mean my company should struggle as a result? Because the natural conclusion is that “employing a woman who might have a baby is a risk to some businesses”, and businesses tend to avoid risk. Therefore they may (and as stated, many do whilst not admitting it), avoid employing women who may have babies.

  29. Ok, I’ve had this idea for awhile, but I might be naive or unrealistic. If mothers and fathers both got similar amounts of leave, after the first few weeks of recovery, what if the parents alternated weekly? That way someone can stay home with the baby for awhile, both parents get to spend more time with their baby, and neither parent will get as far behind in their work. For employers, they won’t have a full-time replacement, but they’ll still get some of the help they need, and probably won’t have to train a new hire or pay the double salary for a temp. Of course this won’t work for single parents or service jobs that need a constant employee, but am I being too idealistic to think this would be a good compromise in a lot of cases?

  30. @marilove: Pumping is not easy for a lot of women. It’s an option for some, but not for many. Plus, for a decent pumper, it can cost you quite a bit.

    This is so true. My baby wouldn’t latch at all so I set myself up to pump exclusively. This just didn’t happen. The pump is horribly less efficient than the actual baby.

    I also second the fact that a good one is expensive. A friend of mine gave me her $300 one but by the time I was able to get it I would only pump 1 or 2 oz which wasn’t enough and I couldn’t produce any more than that through the pump exclusively.

  31. There seems to be a problem with me managing this subscription; I click on the link to “Manage Your Subscriptions” and I get an error message about an invalid key.

  32. @Tracy King: You mean disproportionatly angry for a single childless man? I care because, and I realise I may be alone in the fact, I find it morally abhorrent that women and their families (in fact anyone) should be pushed into poverty by having children.

    What makes you think that giving mothers rights is taking something from small business? Are you angry that a little bit of power is being transfered from the employers to the employees? You needn’t worry, all your losing is the right to exploit them quite as mercilessly as in the past.

    New mothers don’t get “more” rights than you. You also get the right and would be able to exercise it if you were working for someone else. Just because you choose not to exercise a right does not mean it should be denied to others, you might as well claim “I don’t use the NHS so why should there be free healthcare for all?”

    And why do small businesses go under? It’s hardly because of those selfish women unreasonably wanting to be able raise their children with dignity for a few short years, it’s competition with big businesses.

    I’m a research scientist and don’t understand the black arts of marketing, but I were running my own business I would make my “family friendly” employment policy a cornerstone of my advertising.

  33. @Tracy King: So basically a woman, if she wants to have a career, shouldn’t have babies? Is that what you’re saying? Because it pretty much seems like you’re saying that. And again, for many woman, having a child ISN’T really a choice. It’s expected of her.

  34. Let’s say my life’s goal is to spend a year traveling the country, going around to the poorest areas of cities and finding out exactly what they needed help with most, then giving of myself and convincing others to do the same.

    Let’s also say that I ask my employer for a year off, with pay, to do that. (And also tell him that I may well do the exact same thing one or two more times over the next several years.) It would almost certainly improve society at large, and without any of the extra negative environmental impact of bringing more lives into the world.

    Of course, most employers would laugh me out of the room. And why should it be otherwise? If I feel that helping out the world is the right thing to do, that it’s what gives my life purpose, then I’m free to save up money, get other people to sponsor me, or whatever I choose to make this possible.

    Why should reproducing be any different? Really, we have enough people on the planet already; making more is not an unquestionable public good. And if, in my year, I can help one person to the point where he doesn’t become desperate enough to turn to crime, I’ve done more to help society than raising one person who either wouldn’t have existed, or may have turned out decently anyway.

    My solution would be cut down on benefits drastically, with a commensurate increase in monetary compensation, with which workers can pursue whatever goals are important to them. There’s no good reason to elevate reproduction to a status far beyond that of other people’s life goals.

  35. @Marilove:
    She can have babies. Just don’t make a business owner who has the luck of being her employer or other individuals bear the expense.

  36. @andyinsdca: Oh, I see. So basically a woman who has a child should be forced into poverty. Nice.

    As someone else mentioned above, many women (and men) *don’t* have a choice in where they work. Tracy King DID have a choice in creating her own business. Part of owning your own business is providing benefits and incentives to your employees, including government mandated maternity leave. If you can’t do that, then perhaps you shouldn’t own a business.

  37. @marilove: Yeah, Day Care here is called Sure Start. But its not very good and aimed sqaurely at getting working class women back to work (because they’re naturally feckless & lazy and would rather claim £60 benefits than £200 a week wages, that’s why there’s 3.5m unemployed: Mass Laziness)

    @Tracy King: Why should women struggle with bringing up children at the expense of your business? Its almost as if you think your business, it’s growth & development and your eventual success & enrichment are more important ordinary human beings.

    And people think I’m an asshat.

  38. I think we need a system that includes maternity and paternity leave. Outside of the immediate time pre/post delivery, it is unfair to assume that the mother should be spending time with the newborn but not the father. I have no knowledge or personal experience on which to base the ideal length of those leave periods, though.

    I also think that our American system of making everything employer-based is a bad idea. As Tracy mentioned, it can screw over a small or new business. Plus, why should my job choice impact the quality and affordability of my healthcare, childcare, etc? I don’t have kids myself but I think it benefits society as a whole when society’s children are well cared for–whether by their parents or by qualified professionals. and if it takes government support and my tax money to do it, so be it. oops, my socialist tendencies are showing…

  39. @russellsugden: I don’t think you read the opening article. I stated very clearly why it’s a problem for small businesses. Most startups don’t make a profit for the first three years. Maternity leave is not cost-neutral for any business, but for a small one, one or two pregnant employees can mean bankruptcy. How is that even close to OK?

    I would like to debate this subject with you, but as you just resorted to name-calling, you can either cease to contribute, contribute in a civil manner, or be ignored. Your choice.

  40. The trouble with most people is that they’ve swallowed the lie that “any day now” they are going to join the ranks of the rich. Why bother trying to make things better for ordinary people like yourself, by making the rich pay their fair share either through the businesses they own or direct taxation when this time next year your going to be a millionaire?

    @marilove: it was me that mentioned the lack of work choice

  41. @marilove: “Part of owning your own business is providing benefits and incentives to your employees, including government mandated maternity leave. If you can’t do that, then perhaps you shouldn’t own a business.” In an ideal world, that would be the case. However, for business start-ups, that’s not how it works. You mortgage your house or take out a large loan using your personal assets in order to start your business. You take no salary for the first three years while your business is in its startup phase (I’m in year four and just started paying myself a pittance). Then you work all the hours that exist at the expense of everything else in order to grow your business to a point where it is profitable enough to sustain things like maternity leave. The government does not recognise the difference between a year two company and a year twenty company. So in those early years, are you saying that the small business has to get into even more debt because of maternity leave? Is that really ideal? Would it not be better to not offer employees maternity leave? Because at the moment, what small business often do, as I’ve stated, is try and avoid employing women they think might get pregnant, which is an horrific state of affairs.

  42. First of all, I have no good answer. I can understand your frustrations just as much as a new mothers, however I tend to agree with marilove when she says:

    Tracy King DID have a choice in creating her own business. Part of owning your own business is providing benefits and incentives to your employees, including government mandated maternity leave.

    and my mother did struggle as a small business owner and had to go bankrupt because of it. The reason it failed though wasn’t because of the compensation she needed to pay her employee’s but like someone said above: big businesses completely overshadowed her efforts.

    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to come up with better solutions but as of right now I don’t think there really is any.

    Coming from the US, I would have loved to have had 52 weeks.

  43. Plus, it’s fairly sensible to point out that if a small business does go bankrupt because of maternity leave, then the mother/s involved are out of a job as well as the other employees and the business owner, who will almost certainly lose his/her house and anything else they put up to fund the company. Small businesses should not have the same financial obligations as large businesses, because they simply can’t sustain them. That’s true for a sandwich van at the side of the road or a little marketing agency like mine.

  44. @chistat: I think it benefits society as a whole when society’s children are well cared for–whether by their parents or by qualified professionals. and if it takes government support and my tax money to do it, so be it. oops, my socialist tendencies are showing…

    Mine too! I think that would be great. I wouldn’t mind paying some more in taxes for that at all.

  45. @Tracy King: Small businesses should not have the same financial obligations as large businesses, because they simply can’t sustain them. That’s true for a sandwich van at the side of the road or a little marketing agency like mine.

    Hmmm, I don’t know if I am naive here but would it be sensible then to have income brackets for businesses? Ie: if you make under so much money these rules apply to you and if you make over this amount of money these rules apply to you?

  46. @Tracy King: I apologise. I got carried away.

    Ultimatley I think it boils down to the individual having more rights than a corporate entity.

    And, and I appriciate this is an unfashionable view, that women have a right to reproductive autonomy. That doesn’t just mean the right to have an abortion paid for by society it also equally means the right to be supported if they choose to have a baby. I’m pro-choice not pro-abortion.

    You had a choice to start your own business, a choice denighed by circumstances to many many women. As I stated earlier, the dilemma (I would say dialectic tension) for any business is between the future benefit of workers-as-yet-fully-grown and the immediate cost of actually paying for those children right now.

    Maternity leave is not cost neutral for a single business, but it is cost neutral for business as businesses benifit from the workers that are produced by it. Think of it like the education system (or for that matter anything your taxes pay for) your business, i.e. you, doesn’t benefit either directly or immediatley from publicly funded education, but you benefit from the money-spent-on-education-via-taxation-in-the-past and in the future your business (and others as yet in exsistance) will benefit from money spent now. Jam tomorrow I’m afraid.

    I would suggest not hiring anyone on a full time perminent basis until your business has grown to the point where “two or three” pregnancies would not cause it to collapse. In your position I would hire no one as a perminent staff member until I could hire anyone and treat them equitibly.

  47. I think what is likely to happen is that small businesses will continue to be wary of women of child bearing age unless the laws are modified and until then the reality is that there is likely nothing anyone can do about the consequences of these laws. I think in the long run the laws in US are more favorable to women because they afford more business opportunity regardless of your opinion abut the nature of maternity leave laws. I also think Russell has a point in that this only really applies to the more highly trained or university degree required positions. It does seem idealistic and unrealistic to think one can have ones cake and eat it too. It would be hard to imagine a law firm making a woman a partner if there was the prospect of her being gone for three out of the next seven years and it is understandable that if a company has a high expectation of commitment and dedication for a new employee that they would be wary of that potential loss of an employee’s time. I don’t think there really is a solution for this except that a given society will make one situation over the other a priority and then have to live with the consequences.

  48. @russellsugden: That is quite alright, I like debating with you so I’d have been sad if you’d stopped.

    Yes, I agree with what you’re saying, and that is pretty much what I’ve done. I have five freelancers and one part-time salaried employee, so although the hourly rate they’re paid is much higher that the equivalent rate in salary, I don’t have the other costs like office space, the tax implications etc, and if business is quiet I don’t have to lay anyone off.

    I wouldn’t consider permanent full-time employees until at least year six when the company is healthy enough to sustain my obligations. And in marketing, there are a lot of women, so I wouldn’t want to secretly discriminate even if I was that sort of person, because I’d rather have the pick of the job market. I’ve always been very cautious in my business growth, and as a result have stayed afloat during a recession when similar businesses have gone under. But one day, my business will be big enough and profitable enough to be as generous as I’d like all employers to be if they can afford it. That includes dental care (much needed in the UK), private healthcare, etc.

    Sadly, though, not every small business owner is able to hire freelancers (imagine, say, a small flower shop), so they have a very different dilemma.

  49. Tracy, I understand your dilemma and your frustration. Owning your own business is your dream and you’ve poured a lot of yourself into it. Wanting to avoid any risk of losing that business because of someone else’s life choices is easy to understand.

    I worked for a high profile company in the US for 17 years and did have the responsibility for hiring in one department. We were burned so many times by women we hired and trained only to have them announce they were pregnant after their probation period. They then gave birth to full-term, “pre-mature” babies about four months later. All they wanted was to get the company name on their resume’, health insurance, and PTO. As soon as their PTO and FMLA was up, they quit. Our time, money, and efforts were wasted on those women, and they only made things more difficult for women of child-bearing age to get hired. There was also a lot of resentment by fellow employees who had to cover for them while out as we could not hire temps for the two months or so; neither could we begin a replacement search until they officially gave notice.

    There needs to be more education in family planning and any maternity benefits should require more personal responsibility of the parents. There is too much entitlement-mindedness in the world and that is hurting everyone.

  50. @marilove and @Surly Nymph: How is it in no way comparable? Why should I pay for someone else’s choice?

    And if you don’t think it’s a choice, I’d like to know exactly how. If women don’t have access to the information, birth control, or abortion services that they need, that’s a travesty that needs to be overcome, and I would gladly include remedies to that in any solution I propose.

    But if a woman does have a choice, which she absolutely should, and does in the few cases that I know about (granted, not all), then why should I pay for her choice?

  51. @Tracy King: Year Six! That’s ambitious! My dad’s a Plumber and he started out with a bicycle and a bag of tools, he didn’t employ anyone (and an apprentice at that, so someone not even on full pay) until year 15. He was one of the first plumbers to employ women (and that wasn’t until year 25, ten years ago)

    My uncle built up a multi-million accountancy practice from a out of garden shed and he didn’t employ anyone for the first ten years.

    You know the biggest cause of start ups going under is expanding too rapidly…

    “Quick to grow, quick to die” is what my talior grandparents would say.

  52. Businesses should not be solely responsible for the societal cost of allowing parents paid time off for raising kids.

    A couple of people said it – taxes need to support this. That way an unprofitable business isn’t paying until it is profitable.

    It doesn’t solve the “I need to find a skilled individual willing to work for a year” problem. But if you have a mix of permanent and freelance employees, that should help. Even big corporations have trouble finding suitable replacements for mat leave – especially for specialized positions. That’s a true cost that taxes can’t help.

    It does seem like an unintended consequence of generous mat leave policies is lower employability of women not obviously post menopausal. I don’t see a way to avoid this without, as catgirl noted way up high, sharing the leave between men and women.

  53. @Bechamel: You should pay for her choice because you benefit from it in the long run. Current business benefit from the “investment” in people made by businessess in the past and future business (maybe including yours) will benefit from the “investment” made today.

    Short-term thinking is one of the many flaws in capitalism. A sucessful business man looks to the long term pay-offs from investments (some unknown bloke called Warren Buffet said that)

    Affordable maternity care is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the right long term business stratagy for businesses to follow

  54. @OnlyCheryl: Yes but the women did that because the state benefits were so poor.

    On a larger scale this reliance on the private sector for “welfare” pretty much destroyed GM, described correctly as a health insurance company doing a sideline in car production. Not only does it cost more, its less efficient than government run welfare and leaves millions without cover.

    Obama’s push for healthcare reform is not out of wooly liberalism, government-run not-for-profit healthcare/welfare is good business sense. It maintains overall population health (sick workers have low productivity), leaves the public with more disposible income (to buy stuff), removes the threat of medically-caused-bankruptcy (again leaving people with money to buy stuff) and, most importantly, shifts the healthcare burden from individual business (such GM) to the collective of the state.

    As with healthcare, improving state maternity benefits across the board would reduce the reliance of people on duplicity, and reduce the individual burden on companies.

    It’s the collective benefit over the individual benefit.

  55. Really? Is there some major danger that if taxpayers and employers subsidize procreation a bit less, that now everyone will instantly decide against having children, there will never be any more births, and society will crumble?

    While I obviously haven’t done any in-depth calculations on this, I can’t imagine my proposal cutting birth rates by more than a few percent. This is hardly enough to cause a major problem in “keeping society going”.

    Also, it’s not obvious to me that I benefit from each additional child born. While they all cost me in the short term, a non-negligible number of them will end up on welfare much of their lives, where I’ll be paying for them again.

    Granted, most of them will become functional members of society, many of whom will produce goods and services that I will purchase, perhaps at slightly lower prices because of the larger work force, but again, it’s far from obvious to me that paying for each additional child is a worthy long-term investment.

    I’m not trying to be a jackass here, I swear. I’m just in a skeptical community, and I’m seeing what looks to me like a community-wide unchallenged assumption that human reproduction is an unmitigated good, and I’d like to know why. Any help is greatly appreciated.

    (And with that, I’m out for the night, and will check back tomorrow.)

  56. @Tracy King: For that hypothetical florist, she/he should have budgeted for a known potential cost. It is the employers responsibility to maintain the business. Now, the small businessperson is getting the short shrift the way the law is written, but that’s an issue between the government and the business. There should certainly be some way for the business to recoup the expenses mandated by the government in this case.

    It’s good to hear that you are taking the more responsible direction and not putting yourself or your employees at undue risk. If an employer has stretched the business so thin that a pregnant employee can derail everything, I don’t have much sympathy.

    As an employee of small businesses for most of my working life, I’ve had to make do without benefits. I’ve done so to have the advantages of working for small companies. The owners can do the same for the advantages they enjoy.

  57. You know, I was just talking to one of my non-profit clients about their site for an annual business conference they host in our area.

    The marketing guy wants a blog. He wants a blog. He wants a blog. Oh, and he wants a blog. But when I settled down with them and asked the basic question: who is going to write the posts? He shrugged and just said they needed a blog.

    The director in charge of the conference – who generally has to take up a lot of slack from employees who only put in the minimum – wasn’t happy about his attitude.

    So I pointed out that after 15 years I had a basic maxim: you can WANT something all you want, but without the resources – time, financial or an employee – it was doomed to failure. Either it would be dormant (then what’s the point of a blog?) or whoever they assigned it to wouldn’t do it out of frustration anyway. (He ultimately decided to take on the responsibility himself.)

    We can want all sorts of equality in the workplace and better child care and societal changes. But that doesn’t change the logistical realities of a business. Tracy makes some really valid points about small business and its’ rather tenuous state within the first few years. These are not pretty facts, and she’s brave as hell to own up to them.

    While many of you are saying “your employees are not there simply for your pleasure”, the fact is any owner/founder of a small business is also not there to employ someone who will be hired and then walk away for a year. Because that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face – there is no guarantee there will be a job for you to come back to. It has nothing to do with bias or pettiness, it has to do with the bottom line.

    The employee may be able to find another job with minimal financial impact to themselves. The small business owner – who probably put his/her entire savings into starting up the business – will have to start completely over.

    There are ups and downs to small businesses/start-ups. This is one of them.

  58. In the US, FMLA is a little more tricky than just 12 weeks unpaid leave. Your employer is not obligated to grant FMLA until you have been employed by them for 12 months and have worked at least 30 hrs/week during that time. It is granted to fathers as well as mothers, but if both parents work for the same company, the employer can force them to split the 12 weeks between them (so they could each take 6 weeks or some other combination adding up to 12 weeks). Additionally, there can’t be a delay in taking the leave. For example, if both parents work for the same company, and the mother wants to take 6 weeks off, after which the father would like to take 6 weeks, he can’t do that. These are the minimum benefits required by law, and employers can choose to offer more benefits if they want, but I don’t think most companies do.

    I found out I was pregnant right after I began working for my former employer, so I didn’t qualify for FMLA benefits when I had my baby. I was allowed to take paid leave using up all my sick and vacation days, and I could choose to apply for unpaid leave as well. One of the requirements of taking unpaid leave, though, was that I would have to pay the full cost of my health insurance premiums, which I couldn’t afford. I managed to work out a deal with my employer to take 7 weeks of paid leave, then return part time for 2 months. This came with a whole new set of issues, though, because part time employees don’t have the option of getting a family health insurance plan. This meant that in order to cover my baby, I would have to drop my husband from my health insurance and wouldn’t be able to add him back until open enrollment, which would have left my husband uninsured for about 8 months. I ended up leaving my job 2 weeks after returning to work because it was just too soon to be away from my baby. Had my employer decided to allow me the 12 weeks leave without messing with my benefits, I would probably still be there. However, I felt like I really got screwed by the whole deal and I obviously wasn’t valued enough for them to work with me on the maternity leave issue.

    I don’t really have a lot of ideas about what a good solution to situations like these are. In my case, I was just a lowly lab tech, and easily replaced, so it was probably in their best interest to let me go and hire someone new. Had I been in a better position, I may have been able to negotiate better benefits, but I think that the policies they had in place apply to everyone who works there. I don’t really think that companies can be trusted to do what is best for their employees when it isn’t in the best interest of the business. If the FMLA benefits weren’t in place, I’m sure that they would screw over every pregnant woman that works for them. So, I think it is a good idea to have some minimum requirement for benefits to keep employers from discriminating against women who choose to have families.

  59. @Bechamel: I’m seeing what looks to me like a community-wide unchallenged assumption that human reproduction is an unmitigated good

    Funny, I’m not seeing anything of the sort. I’m seeing the premise that “women will have babies” as a given, and then discussions as to how best to incorporate that given into the practical aspects of running a business. The question wasn’t “should women have babies?”

    But your strawman is certainly very pretty, although he looks a tad bitter.

  60. Maternity leave, here in sunny Denmark, is available equally to both parents. The parents get a total number of weeks, as I understand it, that they can split between them more or less as they please. Although, de facto, it’s usually the mother who takes the greater part.

    I’m not a good authority on this as I’ve no children and never needed the information.

  61. I don’t see having more people around as a good thing either. I will probably live to see a world population of 9 billion in my lifetime. The fact of the matter is that human population is an unstoppable force that won’t be checked. Sad but true. Small societal shifts in the way human offspring are cared for will have no effect on this growth.
    I appreciate that maternity leave law is intended to provide fairness in a system that is biased against the less affluent.
    That being said, if I were a small business owner, I would discriminate as much as I could to ensure my business was protected against possibly crippling financial costs associated with maternity leave. The nice thing about being a small business owner is that you are not subject to the same regulatory scrutiny of hiring practices as a big company. So hire older men and older women. They make just as good employees as anyone else.

  62. By the way, my answer to the question is that in many jurisdictions maternity leaves are probably not generous enough.

    @ teragram42, skeptartist and ZenMonkey I agree with you wholeheartedly! bechamel should just apologize profusely for questioning the one area of human endeavour that should never be questioned: motherhood. Oh wait, that is religion…Don’t question religion, buddy!

  63. @Bechamel:

    I’m seeing what looks to me like a community-wide unchallenged assumption that human reproduction is an unmitigated good

    And @deadmike:

    I don’t think scaring women with their jobs and/or simply not hiring women around average childbearing age is a good way to reduce the global population…

    I think there are good points being made from each side of the issue and it is clearly not black and white. I feel like any woman should have the right not to be set back, forced to quit, etc due to biological circumstances. At the same time, I don’t think this burden should be placed on small businesses, as many people have mentioned. Additionally, I think that beyond the period of time surrounding childbirth, it is a bad stereotype that it must be the woman staying and caring for the child. And in general, the problem would probably be helped if more people made educated decisions about reproduction, their finances, and all that in the first place.

    There are people who will exploit maternity leave if it is generous, and there are businesses that will discriminate against childbearing women for their own gain if given the choice. But not providing anything is obviously a worse solution. I do not know what the best course of action is.

  64. Wow, spittle-flying Marxist BS about the bourgeois, the unquestioned right of a female to have the rest of the population chip in for her child, “for the ultimate good of society (or small buisiness)”…

    What site did I log into?…

    A seemingly reasonable question draws the lunatic fringe out for a parade…

  65. @sporefrog
    I agree with what you say (this time with no sarcasm). I don’t think that there is any way to reduce or at least not increase the population. If there was, I would definitely advocate it!
    I also agree with not putting undue burden on those who do undertake to reproduce, since it is going to happen anyway. I think fair is fair, and maternity leave is a social safety net that needs to be there.
    At the same time, if I were a small business owner who could hire only one employee, I might bias my selection to one who is not likely to take a year off for child rearing (male or female). If I had 50 employees, with a commensurate payroll and cash flow, no problem.

  66. I always saw a line between carrying a baby to term and raising a child. And while I fully support a woman’s right to do either or both, I don’t feel I should be obligated for someone else’s decision to raise a child.

    I’m perfectly okay with having some societal arrangement to cover the costs of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as abortion. But I don’t think that’s quite the same as funding a person’s decision to raise a child they did not prepare for financially. Sometimes you may not see a choice in giving birth, but you can always decide not to raise a child.

    Maternity leave is a tricky issue. I think it’s to everyone’s benefit that there be maternity leave for new mothers and fathers, if only because being kept up all night by a squalling newborn can severely effect your work (this is a joke. Do not take it seriously, plz.).

    Whether you should be paid for your leave time, I am rather less certain about.

  67. We are in the situation right now: our nanny is pregnant and is protected by law to act as she like. She doesn’t appear and can leave when she likes just by referring to her pregnancy. Our nanny is taking full advantage of this and we are stuck with emergency interventions to make sure that our kids are looked for.
    In short: even ignoring the financial implications, we will never employ a woman in childbearing age again. We sorry for the women that would not take unfair advantage of their rights.

  68. Maybe the message we should be sending to BOTH parents is that you don’t have to be around for all of your child’s “firsts” for you to be a “good parent”. So if you’re a woman with a job you care about and want to go back to while your husband can be at home or you can use daycare you aren’t a “bad mother”. Or you can stay at home with your child. In any case, as long as you love and care for your child you can still be a “good parent”. We should teach men that leaving your career to be a full-time dad is a worthwhile endeavor. Otherwise, we’ll still be left with a society where men only achieve their goals when they bring home the bacon and women are only of value when they either choose a career at the exclusion of all else or they stay at home with their children. Maybe some form of shared maternity/paternity leave per child would be best, with an agreement to continue work for a similar amount of time after the leave is done (ie can’t quit right after your leave is up without some kind of fine). If anyone has any studies to challenge these beliefs, please let me know (I am very curious).
    In answer to the AI question about small businesses, it seems like there is a good debate going on. When you look at it from a purely small business aspect, the business shouldn’t have to absorb some extra cost if an employee goes on leave. But from the aspect of a woman (or man) leaving because of a newborn, that person (in my opinion) should have time at home to raise a child without risking their professional future. I sympathize with both sides. I don’t think (perhaps pessimistically) that the free market will fix this. I think some form of government regulation is required. Maybe increased government benefits towards small businesses are needed. Or maybe small businesses get enough benefits and are only complaining because they don’t succeed for other reasons. I think an evidence-based analysis of the market is required to answer these questions. If someone has such an analysis, please let us all know.
    And as a side note I recently got my PhD in the sciences and am currently looking for a postdoc. As a woman of child-bearing age in the US who wants kids but hasn’t necessarily planned for them right now, I would not tell a potential employer that I want kids; that would just give potential employers a reason not hire me. I don’t give employers any information they cannot legally ask for in the interview process, that include my possible reproductive future or my age.

  69. @ZachTP: What if you’re not in a position to prepare financially for the birth of your child? What if your partner walks out on you 8 months pregnant? Or loses his job?

    Should the child suffer being born into poverty simply because it’s parents were unable to prepare financially?

    Should the poor either abort every pregnancy or give up to the orphanage every full term baby the can not support?

    What your saying is “Full help until the cord is cut then: Zilch”.

    It’s a classic middle-class view of welfare. Things I’d rather not pay for should be free, things I can afford to pay for should not come out of my taxes

    You may not have realised it, but you are obliged to help raise other people’s children;

    Who’s paying for Schools?
    Who’s paying for public day care?
    Who’s paying for child immunisations?

  70. @sporefrog: “There are people who will exploit maternity leave if its generous”

    By spending time with their children, bringing them up in a loving environment, educating them by spending time with them, teaching them stuff. How dare they!

    Those children should be either dumped in front of the TV or dumped in third rate immpersonal day-care with hundreds of other children where they’ll be dumped in front of a TV.

  71. @Finn McR:

    Exactly. This had a chance at a chance to be a decent, rational conversation, but every attempt has been throttled by OMG WHY DO YOU HATE WOMEN AND CHILDREN???

    But maybe it’s because I had to go to day care while my mom worked when I was a kid — I have obviously become an unfeeling neurotic.

  72. The women I mentioned all were married, had husbands with well-paying jobs, and well above the poverty level. They took advantage as I described.

    We did hire women who were near poverty, who did get pregnant and took responsibility for themselves, their child’s upbringing, and contributed to the workplace. They were the ones we all respected and were willing to help when they had problems.

    Tracy, you have obviously thought this all out and are commended for voicing your concerns. You are doing what you love and taking responsibility for your future. I hope you continue to be a success and wish you all the best.

  73. @Aaron seems right to suggest that Govt should have gone further in helping small businesses offset the add-on coasts of maternity leave – possibly including via insurance regulations, as per @po8crg above.

    Presumably it’s a proportionately small number of vacancies that would have such high on-costs, though? A quick advert in the local press to find a replacement for the checkout till – with a day’s training if you’re lucky – is more the norm?

    The ideal would be a mixture of this plus more gender equality in parental leave – maybe Mum can have the first year for breastfeeding and Dad can do yr 2 with all the tantrums? ;)

    Seriously, it’s the breastfeeding that’s the nub, but if women are not breastfeeding, there’s no reason the leave should be attached to one gender rather than the other. FLEXIBILITY would be the best option, then employers would never be quite sure whether employing a man or a woman of childrearing age would be more risky? (@Rei Malebario @catgirl @lexicakes) Both part-time sounds lovely… (Though I hope that the year’s maternity leave is having the effect of improving breastfeeding rates – does anyone know off-hand?)

    @OnlyCheryl I tend to think that good terms and conditions will lead to more employee loyalty rather than less – I have experienced this anecdotally – but why should people’s child-bearing rights be dictated by how settled they are in their employment? (And what if they work in an area where contractual work and no job security is the norm, what then?) In response to your comment, I at first thought that maybe there should be a minimum length of service before maternity rights kick in, but actually if maternity rights are universal, as in UK, you should not find employees taking advantage of a particular employer in that way.

    I tend to think that we’re moving in the right direction, and maybe things are not perfect at the moment, but you should all be writing to your MPs and helping improve this pretty generous system til it suits everyone just a bit better.

  74. @russellsugden: Alimony and US unemployment benefits come to mind when I look at your counterpoints. No, they don’t necessarily provide enough money to maintain the standard of living you had previously, but there is enough money to survive until your feet are back under you.

    Not to mention the government programs already in place to assist impoverished mothers. I deal with WIC checks all the time, for instance.

    These programs are already in place, and I’m already paying for them. Why should there be another?

    I can’t say I’m thrilled about paying for public schools either, although I do see the necessity. I would be less bitter about that if public schools could use the money they have more efficiently. One more consequence of being government-run, I suppose.

    Free vaccinations are also pretty clearly in the public interest. I’ve seen the evidence showing the recent upswings in preventable disease now that antivaxxers are rampant.

    But just because I support these programs, doesn’t mean I think paying for another is a great idea. I’ve seen a lot of evidence backing up the assertion that public schools are to everyone’s benefit, for instance. Are there any studies like that for maternity leave pay? I’d be interested to see them, and that’s certainly something that could change my mind.

  75. @ZachTP: “Alimony and US unemployment benefits come to mind when I look at your counterpoints.”

    There are many reasons a person would not be able to collect unemployment – perhaps their employer was negligent on paying their unemployment insurance, or maybe the company goes bankrupt. Many companies will also fight an unemployment claim, in which case it turns into a battle of your word against theirs. Chances are they have more evidence than you do. Not to mention that many low-paying or part-time jobs won’t fire you, but will cut back your hours forcing you to quit.

    Alimony and child support are also difficult to get in some cases. While the plural of anecdote is not evidence, I know many single moms that have had to go to court repeatedly to get child support, only to have the father claim that he is unemployed, injured, or under some other hardship. Food stamps and WIC don’t pay the heat bill or the rent.

  76. @“Other” Amanda: This is a point I hadn’t considered. You’re right – these programs are flawed. That suggests to me that they should be amended, though, rather than that they should be expanded upon. Closing holes in existing programs is something I can toss my support behind without reservation. If I’m already paying into them, they should at least do as promised.

    I guess I don’t see how paid maternity leave will really help with the problems that poor mothers face; it seems more like patching next to a hole rather than over it.

  77. When we had our kids, my wife took the maximum leave–paid and then some unpaid–and we found a decent daycare. Both Highlander and Phoenix have been in daycare since about 3 months old.

    The people at the daycare aren’t inhuman monsters, and the kids show no sign of sociopathic tendencies… although with Phoenix it’s a little early to say.

    Perhaps it does “take a village” to raise a child, but that doesn’t mean that someone should be obligated to hold a job open for years–as suggested by some–in order to facilitate a parent excluding the village from raising their child. If it takes a village, the village’s role should not exclusively be forcing one person to foot the bill for another person’s decisions.

    And it is always a decision to have and attempt to raise a child. Adoption or abortion may be brutally hard choices, but they are choices. To say they are not is to allow ideology to trump simple reason.

    It is also a decision to run a business. But the idea that a good solution to the dilemma is to refuse to hire any full time staff at all, in order to not pay any benefits at all while simultaneously working contractors for 40 hours a week is just incoherent. Either the business owes something to the people who are in its employ or the business does not. Relabeling those people may close a legal loophole, but it certainly doesn’t close an ethical one.

    A small business–any business–should hire the maximum number of people it can profitably sustain. Work creates wealth. We do not want to live in a society where people are afraid to hire people because the onus of hiring them is to great.

    Similarly, having children is basically the purpose of life. Not the purpose of your life, perhaps, but the purpose of life in general insofar as life can be said to have one. Living things reproduce. So we do not want to live in a society where having children is potentially ruinous.

    The solution to both problems is clearly to improve the daycare situation in the U.S., both in terms of quality and affordability. As this is probably to the benefit of society generally, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to use tax resources to attack this problem.

  78. @catgirl: Is there evidence that letting kids go to daycare at a certain age is worse for a society than waiting until a later age? I don’t have any data handy, but I thought that it doesn’t really make much difference after about 3 months.

    I saw an article recently that said that daycare kids tended to be more intelligent but slightly more aggressive than home raised children. I’d have to go digging through Facebook updates to find it, though (cause I’m too lazy to do my own googlin’).

  79. @Chasmosaur: I think Chas has the right of it, here. In the ideal world, parental leave would be easy to take, both for the employer and the employee. To an extent, large businesses CAN absorb the cost of such things… one of my co-workers is pregnant, and planning on taking a few weeks once she spawns, but for the city, it’s mostly a matter of “Who does her work while she’s gone?” (Answer? Not me. I suck with children, except in a very few circumstances, and no more than one to three at a time).

    Before I worked for the city, though, I worked for a family restaurant. Mom, dad, and one employee during the day; mom, dad, one employee and one or both of their kids in the evening. If I were a young woman and said “I need time off for my baby” their response would have to be “We’ll be here when you get done, but we’ll have to hire someone in the meantime, and they may have your job.” They have no choice about it. It’s either that or the restaurant fails.

    If the government wants to have small businesses, there’s basically only a few options.

    1) Subsidize maternal leave (being of the penis-bearing caste, I’m all in favor of paternal leave, too, but it’s seldom argued about when we haven’t even figured out what to do with the vajayjay bearing caste, which has an understandably greater load, being saddled with both a newborn and the man-child she procreated with).
    2) Look the other way when young women are either let go or not hired because they (might) become pregnant. In fact, in my German classes in High School, one of the sample conversations was exactly about that… a woman who was, over the course of years, consistently denied promotions because she was either about to become pregnant or too old for the job.
    3) Watch a lot of small businesses die as they enforce laws in conflict with reality.

    @sethmanapio: Please tell me Highlander and Phoenix are your on-line pseudonyms for your children.

    Anyway, I should go to bed. I work later today, after having been sick since Wednesday, and my cat is giving me dirty looks.

  80. @Surly Nymph: Found it, or at least a reproduction of it:

    They say “child care”, but context shows they mean “day care” as opposed to “family member at home watching them.”

    On the day care front, my family has been very lucky. My mother was able to stay home with us until we were well into elementary school (I think my younger brother was in 1st or 2nd grade when she went back to work), and then she worked pretty much school hours, part time as a teaching assistant. The only time I’m aware that things changed is when my younger brother was born a mutant, and dad took a job in a shoe store to help pay to make him look human (only marginally successful, but they had limited material to work with considering my parents likely found him in a badger den). My older brother and his wife have two girls, and she’s been able to stay home with them pretty much non-stop, making a little on the side with art and voice work.

    Nice if you can pull it off. Not always feasible, however.

  81. @manda_bf
    “I don’t give employers any information they cannot legally ask for”
    This is absolutely your right to do, but think of what that right does to the entire age group. If an employer could ask and get an honest answer, the the discrimination of 25 to 35 year old women would be much smaller. I don’t think employers mind a women getting pregnant in 2-3 years. However in our situation she was virturally trying to get pregnant during the interview. We are forced to punish all women between 25 and 35 just because we cannot trust some of them.

  82. @sethmanapio:

    The solution to both problems is clearly to improve the daycare situation in the U.S., both in terms of quality and affordability. As this is probably to the benefit of society generally, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to use tax resources to attack this problem.

    I think this touches on a point that hasn’t been brought up yet. If society as a whole benefits from parental leave, why should the business owner pay for it? Not only that, but the employer will shift as much of the cost as possible back onto the parent. The total value of a person’s compensation package is driven (mostly) by market forces: compensation equals marginal product of labour, if you try to push it above this then the firm raises marginal product of labour by reducing the amount of labour it uses.

    Surely society should pay for parental leave via taxation. That would give parents leave while fixing the perverse incentives for small business owners.

    Mandating employer-provided parental leave is like paying for government-funded leave by taxing women of childbearing age. I can’t imagine why you would fund parental leave this way rather than through general taxation.

  83. I’m pretty sure I’m on your side Russell, I’m just trying to take seriously the fact that, if the laws were as you suggest, we’d have more discrimination against hiring women and not less -.- it’s a hard problem and shouting emphatically about it isn’t going to solve it.

    I’m leaning towards Seth and James_K’s positions: let everyone share the burden, not just the business, so they don’t have as many perverse incentives to avoid hiring women, and let’s work on making daycare better so people don’t have to choose quite so much between having children and having a career.

  84. I think that the best way to prevent discrimination by the employer during the hiring phase is to remove the factors.

    An employer might look at a newlywed 22 year old woman and think “wonderful, I’m gonna be footing a breeder soon”.

    But if we grant each worker such a benefit, regardless of gender, via a national random lottery, then they employer would have no way of knowing.

    So Bob in the mail-room has a 2 percent chance of getting a notice from the government saying that he’s got to take off 38 or so weeks.

    It’d have to be created by wicked bright actuaries to make it fairly representative, so they won’t look at a bloke or a woman over 40 as more “attractive” than the younger girl/lady, er woman.

    I’m ready to be lynched now.

  85. I am in a very similar situation to you Tracy. I am a small business owner with a member of staff due start maternity.
    I have a hairdressing business which relies on the income the stylists/techs generate to keep going. It is a very fickle business and clients are too. Should their stylist not be there they would rather go elsewhere than try another stylist, yes strange I know!
    My stylist wants a full year maternity. However, she wants us to try and retain her clientèle so she can have them back. If I get cover I run the risk of loosing clients and it is also someone I will need to train up. The stylist going on leave also does nails, which no-one else in the salon does, double-bubble!
    The maternity laws are great, as long as you are not a small business owner. This years leave will cost me more than I can afford in these recession tight times. As well as this the stylist doesn’t think she wants to come back full-time but as the law stands I can’t fill her hours permanently in case she ‘changes her mind’, which I might add can be at her own leisure. I am not even entitled to ask for a return date!
    Oh, I did employ older staff who had, had their kids to avoid this. This person is having a mid-life crisis baby! :-)

  86. I think all the focus on the mother is misplaced. The focus should be on the infant and what is in the infant’s best interests and what is in society’s best interests.

    If you want to live in the society that will result from infants growing up in poverty and misery, move to Somalia.

  87. I haven’t read the entire thread, but it seems to me that the maternity leave (which should really become “parental leave”) would work a lot better if instead of giving a woman a year off, you would give both parents half a year off (for example).

    Unless both partners happen to work at the same company, you’re essentially spreading the burden/risk of supporting the new parent across multiple employers. And it would allow fathers to spend some time off at home with the newborn baby too (it’s not like they don’t wake up in the middle of the night when junior gets hungry, and they actually have to be at work the next morning).

    In Belgium, mothers get about 5 months, fathers get 5 weeks (I think).

  88. While this does put small businesses in a tight spot, I think it is a step in the right direction. Instead of letting the market dictate this sort of thing, the government should reimburse businesses who cannot afford this.

    As for this causing small businesses to discriminate against women, this may be true but this kind of policy is a response to the discrimination of large corporations.

    Imagine finding out that you are pregnant, and then finding out that you will lose your job because of this. This used to be a common situation until laws like these.

    Again, this is a step in the right direction, but by no means should it a solution. Corporations are greedy, lazy, and ruthless. Don’t count on them to ensure human rights.

    Just out of curiosity, what is your business?

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