Mother snuggling with baby.

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As a mother of four young children, I absolutely believe in the need for, and validity of, maternity leave, paternity leave or, as some are now advocating, family leave. In my experience, the first three months following each delivery were harder than all 36 months of pregnancy combined. New parents face exhaustion, hormone fluctuation and constant disruption — and many still need to work during this time. The District of Columbia’s Council is aiming to fix this with a family leave proposal that, while it certainly sounds beneficial to families, remains a poor idea, which will adversely affect both businesses and families alike.

D.C. Family Leave

The Washington Post reports the District of Columbia’s Council is considering a proposal that “may soon require employers to provide 11 weeks of paid family leave for parents to bond with newborn or adopted children“ while receiving 90 percent pay. This is one of “the most generous paid-leave laws in the nation.” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) released the proposal on Monday. It’s been in discussion for the better part of this year and is expected to receive the support of most of the council. Advocates cite the “59 percent of mothers with infants [who] are in the workforce and just 12 percent of workers in the private sector [who] get paid leave through their employers.”

Added to the fact that parenting newborns while trying to work is just plain hard and exhausting, the United States is an outlier when it comes to family leave. Pew Research reported in September that out of 41 nations that have mandated parental leave or leave as an “entitlement,” our country ranks at the bottom with zero weeks mandated. (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have state-mandated leave.) By contrast, Estonia offers the most, with 87 weeks, and the U.K. offers fewer than 20. How do they pay for it? “In most countries, a social-security-type system is used to fund the paid time off, though in a small share of cases, the employer also foots part of the bill, as well.”

Again, parental leave is a wonderful concept; a near-necessity among industrialized nations. But how to pay for it — well, therein lies the rub.

Just as FedEx functions better than the U.S. Post Office, so private companies should be allowed to negotiate (or not negotiate) family leave on their own.

Who pays for mandated leave?

It’s one thing to advocate for family leave from the council of D.C. It’s another to mandate employers to provide and pay for it. (Actually, government telling businesses what to do with their employees isn’t just a condition of 2016; it is something bureaucrats have been trying to do for the last century to the chagrin of capitalism-lovers everywhere.) Not only do more regulations in general tend to hurt businesses, especially small ones — data here shows they “kill jobs”— but even ones that seem to help families actually hurt them. This apparent contradiction rests in how leave is funded, or more accurately, who pays for it. The Washington Post reported this particular leave “would be funded by an increase in payroll taxes on businesses of every size, an idea opposed by the city’s largest private employers.” The idea is opposed for good reason: Increased taxes make it harder for businesses to stay productive and to pay current, or hire new, employees. Thus, this also ricochets to the very employees the government hopes the employers will help.

If D.C. would like to help families with newborn babies, it should consider abandoning the idea that the government should fix this at all. Just as FedEx functions better than the U.S. Post Office, so private companies should be allowed to negotiate (or not negotiate) family leave on their own. If employees want family leave, they should petition their employers for such an arrangement. Many businesses have already instituted functional—even ideal—family leave policies without government prodding or intervention.

For example, on Entrepreneur’s list of “radically awesome parental leave policies” you’ll find Netflix offers paid leave for an entire year and allows parents to choose in what capacity they return to work (part-time, full-time, etc.); Adobe provides 16 weeks off — in my experience, by the four month mark (even third), a baby is sleeping through the night and mom and dad are getting into a more rested groove. Twitter offers birth mothers 20 weeks of paid leave and birth fathers and adoptive parents a solid ten weeks.

So while the U.S. might lag behind on the global scale of mandated family leave, many companies offer plans that are compatible with much of the rest of the world — and they don’t force a tax on companies to do so.

As studies show, bonding with baby as an infant makes him or her a healthier person — mom and dad will like it too. Americans should continue to try to create resolutions to this growing problem, especially since there are more and more women in the workforce and increasingly more dads want in on caring for their newborns. Many solutions exist, but we should do what’s best for America and stay away from increasing regulations that tax businesses and ultimately hurt the very families that need assistance. 

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Nicole Russell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Federalist, The American Spectator, Reason, National Review Online, and Parents magazine. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator’s Young Journalist award. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and four children.