Working mom

Couples in Estonia get up to two years of government-paid paternity leave. Fathers in Sweden now get three months of paid paternity leave. New parents in Idaho are federally entitled to, at most, 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

The United State’s lagging policies on paternity leave re-entered the news in June when Sweden’s government upped the international ante and introduced a third month of paid leave set aside just for fathers.

A third month “is something we’ve really looked forward to. We know that this is a key issue towards attaining greater [gender] equality,” social security minister Annika Strandhäll told Radio Sweden.

Previously, Swedish fathers were entitled to two months of paid leave when a new child entered the home. With one of the more generous paternity leave policies in the world, Sweden offers a total of 16 months of paid leave. Under the new government proposal, mothers and fathers would each be required to take three months’ leave or lose them. The remaining 10 months would be divided however the parents wished.

The United States policy toward paternity leave stands in stark comparison.

Idaho parents who want to take a leave of absence after a new child enters their home are governed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). According to representatives from the State Attorney General’s Office and the Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho does not have any specific laws that fill the gaps left by the FMLA.

Some states do.

Seventeen states have added their own laws to augment the FMLA.

Only three of these states (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island) offer paid family and medical leave, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). All three states fund their programs through employee-paid payroll taxes and are administered through their respective disability programs. The NCSL added that the state of Washington was on the verge of passing a paid family leave law in 2007, but the law was never implemented and is now dead.

A small number of states provide for a limited number of hours annually for parents to attend school-related events and activities for their children. In California, parents can take up to 40 hours every year to attend their children’s school plays, class activities and other events. In Nevada, it is against the law to fire an employee for using their leave to attend a child’s school-related activity.

Despite these state-based accommodations, the U.S. government’s support for working parents remains limited compared with 37 other nations, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. Of the 38 countries represented in a December 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t mandate any paid leave for new mothers.

The Pew Research Center study adds that “in the vast majority of countries offering paid time off, the government is footing the bill, though in some cases employers are required to pony up, as well.”

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