Babies

Shared maternity leave: British mums may get to divvy up the parental leave pie

Nov. 14, 2012 at 11:08 AM ET

Can you imagine not only getting a year off from work after having a baby, but having the option to slice up your parental leave like a pie and share it with your partner in almost any way you choose?

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg proposed such a system on Tuesday, saying it will help parents keep their ties to their jobs and help prevent women from leaving the workforce after having children.

Working mothers will still get up to a year of maternity leave, standard in Britain, but after taking the first two weeks off to recover, they could share the rest of the time with their partner as flexible parental leave. The proposal would allow parents to take time off together or in turns for up to a total of 52 weeks. Nine months of the leave would come with guaranteed pay.

“We’ve got a system of parental leave arrangements that in my view is stuck in the 1950s,” Clegg said in an ITV report on NBCNews.com. “We don’t want to impose any decision on parents.

“It’s entirely up to parents to decide how they want to arrange their parental leave arrangements,” he said.

Several British mothers welcomed the changes, which would not take take effect for several years.

“It’s a good start,” one woman said. “I wonder how it’s going to work in practice because at the end of the day, employers will still expect for the dad to come back to work quickly.”

While Clegg said that more flexibility for working parents will help businesses, it could come at a price.

“There will be a cost implication in terms of training, that’s an issue,” the Federation of Small Businesses’ Liesel Smith said in the broadcast report. “You might find that there are some companies who will tend to employ younger people, or they might employ older people. And they will just not going to go for couples who want to have children.”

Guaranteed paid maternity leave is still a dream in the United States. A report last year from Human Rights Watch found that at least 178 countries had national laws that guarantee paid time off for new mothers, with the exception of the United States and several other countries. Since 1993, the U.S. has had the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for employees at companies with at least 50 workers.

In the U.S. today, 58 percent of employers provide paid maternity leave, up from 46 percent in 2005, according to the Families and Work Institute, though time length of paid time off was not provided.

If the U.S. did offer a paid parental-leave pie for parents to divide themselves, how would you do it? Would you stay home the entire time, take one month on, one month off from work, or devise another formula that would allow you both to stay home with your little one and ease the transition into parenthood and back to work at your own speed?

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