Big Corporation Surprising Pregnant Employees with Generous Leave Policy

The U.S. is behind the times when it comes to maternity leave policies, yet one of the world’s biggest corporations could be changing all of that.

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Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile telecommunications company, has announced that it will put a new maternity leave policy in place by the end of the year. The policy will offer a minimum of 16 weeks of paid leave to new mothers in all 30 countries in which they operate. Returning mothers will be able to work 30-hour weeks for the first six months while receiving full-time pay and benefits.

The policy was designed to help women re-enter the workforce successfully, helping them juggle work and their new priorities at home. Vodafone believes the new policy is good not only for female employees, but for the business by helping with recruiting and retention. A more robust leave policy will translate into fewer women leaving the company and help the company attract female talent.

Women make up 35 percent of Vodafone’s total employees. 65 percent of women who left the company after having a child did so within the first year. Vodafone’s leadership observed that retention rates were higher in countries that have mandates in place to help new mothers transition back into the workplace and decided to turn those guidelines into a companywide policy.

Federally Mandated Maternity Leave

Data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that out of 38 countries represented, the U.S. is the only one that does not have federally mandated maternity leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993 has helped out some by granting 12 weeks of leave (although unpaid) to new parents who work for an employer with at least 50 employees.

Linking Short Maternity Leave to Unhealthy Baby and Unhealthy Mom

Various studies show that taking less than six weeks of maternity leave is harmful to both mothers and infants creating developmental delays, sickness, depression and even death. Researchers have found that increasing maternity leave by one week reduced depression symptoms in American mothers.

Paternity Leave

The U.S. is also behind the times when it comes to offering paternity leave. Under FMLA, most fathers are allowed to take unpaid leave if they’ve held their job for 12 months. Any paid leave is up to individual employers.

A recent study on paternity leave shows a parallel between how much paid time off new fathers receive and how much they take. Meaning, if a new father is allotted one week of paid time off, he will only take one week off. One explanation is that a lot of men remain the primary breadwinner for their family.

Cultural norms do seem to be shifting, somewhat. Some companies are starting to provide benefits to new fathers. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo offer four months, 18 weeks and 8 weeks of paid leave, respectively.

Vodafone hasn’t stated how they decided on 16 weeks for their leave policy, but has said that paternity leave will still be on a country by country basis.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Governed by the U.S. Department of Labor, the FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

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