Time off from work after childbirth allows women time for physical recovery, to develop a relationship with a newborn child, to manage a wonderful new life stress, and to attend required doctor’s appointments. Paid maternity leave is also proven to lower the risk of postpartum depression and eliminate barriers to breastfeeding. This is good for mothers and babies, but it is also good for employers. Paid maternity leave policies can reduce the high cost of employee turnover and serve as a powerful factor in recruiting new hires. When Google expanded its parental leave policy from 12 to 18 weeks in 2007, the retention rate of women employed post-maternity leave increased by 50%.
Traditionally, the standard for postpartum maternity leave in Virginia has been six weeks. As a mom of four and an OB/GYN, I can tell you that this is not enough. When maternity leave is unpaid, women may be forced to return to work too soon or face serious financial challenges.
Virginia state employees receive 12 weeks off for paid postpartum leave. We decided that was a good investment then made it happen in 2019. Obviously the state thought this was important, and I think it is important for our workers in the private sector as well. How do we get that done? 42% of private industry workers have access to short-term disability insurance plans, but based on regulations from the Virginia Bureau of Insurance those plans cover only 6 to 8 weeks of maternity leave. The Bureau of Insurance can be directed to extend that to 12 weeks. That is exactly what my legislation, SB567, does. By expanding maternity leave within someone’s disability insurance, we are developing a private sector solution that helps families and employers thrive. The plans will be adjusted with a higher premium to reflect the increase in paid leave cost and then paid in small increments over the life of the plan.
Disability insurance is not something you can buy online or individually. Your employer needs to be willing to offer that as an elective benefit, like dental and life insurance. Sometimes employers pay for it, and sometimes employees pay for it. The cost of that insurance is a calculation of how much it is expected to cost the insurance company. This type of insurance will increase the cost of premiums for those participating; however, the value of 12 weeks at home with a newborn baby is important enough that I think this is the right thing to do. I believe both employers and families will be happy to pay a little more in premiums because they see the value of the investment, just like Virginia did for our state employees. That’s why I am proposing this bill. I hope more and more employers will recognize what a powerful tool disability insurance is for recruitment and retention. That way we can make it available to more and more women. This is mom and obstetrician common sense.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Returning to Work and Paid Leave (2018), https://www.acog.org/-/media/Departments/Toolkits-for-Health-Care-Providers/Postpartum-Toolkit/ppt-work.pdf?dmc=1.
Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Paid Family and Medical Leave in the United States: A Research Agenda (Oct.2018), https://equitablegrowth.org/research-paper/paid-family-and-medical-leave-in-the-united-states/.
Zero to Three, The Child Development Case for a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program (Dec. 2018), https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/204-the-child-development-case-for-a-national-paid-family-and-medical-leave-program.
Dagher, McGovern, and Dowd, Maternity Leave Policies p. 395