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5 Working Parents Share What It’s Really Like to Use Parental Leave

Last night, Netflix announced what may well be the most generous parental leave policy in the country – which isn't saying much, given that the U.S. mandates no paid leave, and offers only 12 weeks of unpaid time off for new parents. To get a sense of how radical (and unusual) policies like these are, we asked working parents in a variety of industries to share their experiences of the state of parental leave in the United States today.

Last night, Netflix announced what may well be the most generous parental leave policy in the country – which isn’t saying much, given that the U.S. mandates no paid leave, and offers only 12 weeks of unpaid time off for new parents. To get a sense of how radical (and unusual) policies like these are, we asked working parents in a variety of industries to share their experiences of the state of parental leave in the United States today.

adorable baby 

(“This was me working from the hospital, with Alex circa 2 days old.” – photo c Sandra Grauschopf, used with permission)

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1. Michelle D., editor

Type of work environment: Privately held media company

Length of leave: 8 weeks. “…the year was 1997, so the FMLA had been in place for about 4 years.”

“My pressure, though, was financial. Although the law allows 12 weeks, I could only take the days I would be paid for. I used the short-term disability allowed for natural birth and then used all of my sick days and vacation days. I was back to work in eight weeks, which was too short – in my opinion. Insurance back in 1997 was so much better. Everything was covered through my employer’s insurance plan. I can’t imagine what people have to pay these days. I had no problems with insurance before, during, or after giving birth. …One thing I would add is management was very supportive. Two of us on the copy desk were out at the same time on maternity leave, as well as others in editorial. We never felt we would lose our job because we took maternity leave. Everyone was happy for us. They didn’t begrudge us.”

2. Veronica, librarian

Type of work environment: Public library and development office at a university

Length of leave: Up to 18 months … unpaid.

“The library lost the insurance paperwork when I was on maternity leave so I had the unpleasant surprise of paying out of pocket for one of my son’s first doctor visits. In fact, they messed up every single piece of paperwork associated with health insurance for the baby. Overall maternity leave is a big myth. At both the library and a different organization with my second son, my leave was just the vacation and sick days I had saved up. Everything else was unpaid leave. I was lucky I could afford to take the leave. A friend was back at six weeks postpartum. …I was lucky though. With the library I was able to extend my unpaid leave up to 18 months if I needed to with job protection because it was something the union negotiated. One of many reasons unions are valuable to women (and everyone). You can quote me on that!”

3. Peter, banker

Type of work environment: Financial institution

Length of leave: 8 to 12 weeks, paid.

(Per his wife:) “12 weeks paid paternity leave with our son in 2011. In 2007, with our daughter, he only had eight weeks paid leave. They upped it to 12 pretty soon after she was born. Full pay, too.”

4. Sandra Grauschopf, freelance writer

Type of work environment: Self-employed

Length of leave: None.

“My employer is a real b___h, and also myself. I worked from the hospital bed after delivery, didn’t take a single day off.”

5. Anonymous, marketer

Type of work environment: Non-profit association

Length of leave: 11 weeks, five weeks paid at 60 percent, three weeks of vacation time

“My company (mid-sized association – around 55 employees) offered me the standard 12 weeks of FMLA leave. I was paid 60 percent of my salary for five of those weeks as per our short-term disability insurance plan (which my employer pays for, so I did have to pay taxes on the disability payment), and then I used about three weeks of combined sick/personal/vacation time. I ended up going back at 11 weeks instead of 12 because we couldn’t take that much of a financial hit from those last few unpaid weeks. Didn’t have any pressure to return early or anything.

“One annoying thing was that I had to pre-pay my health insurance premiums up front before I left, so that was a very large chunk taken out of my final paycheck before leave! I know I’d have had to pay them anyway, but it would have been easier to spread them out. Luckily, my work did a great job at getting [my baby] added to my insurance and we had no issues with that.

“Oh, and another frustrating policy was that I could only use sick time during the disability leave ‘waiting period,’ so the five days before my disability pay kicked in, and then after that was over I could only use personal and vacation days because technically I was no longer on sick leave, it was personal leave. I have way more sick days than I could ever use so that was really frustrating to not be able to use more of them and have to burn my much more flexible personal and vacation days. My leave also spanned the 4th of July and Labor Day, but I didn’t get holiday pay for them like I would have if I’d been working. Not sure if that is typical.”

Note: Some names have been changed or withheld partially or completely to protect anonymity.

Tell Us What You Think

Does your employer offer parental leave? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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