Cute Kitten Videos!

If I wanted this post to get hits, I should have titled it “Cute Kitten Videos”.*

Hm…

Why I am not writing my internship journal due tomorrow, I do not know.  What I do know is that after an afternoon nap following a short work day, I showed up at Business Law class invigorated (and ten minutes late) and ready to learn.  Fast-forward three hours and I’m sitting at my computer with a large slice of cheesecake ravenously reading the Columbia Law Review online. It’s nights like this that I consider that law school might be an interesting, albeit costly, way to avoid boredom for three years.  (Then again, if that’s your only goal, couldn’t you manage it cheaper by trying to backpack through Afghanistan on two dollars a day or buying a small plot of the Amazon Rain Forest and learning to subsist in it?)

The point is, I came across this great article about family leave policy and read, well, at least the great majority of it (hey, it’s long).  Having cheesecake helped.  On the assumption that you don’t have immediate access to cheesecake, here’s a summary:

In the United States, mothers are guaranteed twelve total weeks of unpaid leave for family or illness reasons, including maternity, under the FMLA.  Because that’s not a lot, and because only 60% of American employees are FMLA-eligible (your employer doesn’t qualify? tough.  working part-time? ha…don’t even try), American women seeking better benefits have taken to filing anti-discrimination suits saying that mothers who must leave work due to childbirth should be covered under the same illness- and disability-related laws that protect individuals who are unable to work for those reasons.  Because these are the two ways in which family leave is secured in the U.S., maternity leave has 1) always been tied to sick leave, and 2) always been gender-neutral, both because the process has always involved broadening general work-leave legislation to include pregnancy and childbirth and because it has been seen as an issue of anti-gender discrimination rather than of women’s natural rights.

1) is bad because, well, being sick and being with child/taking care of a child are different things. For example, people can fake being sick, or take sick days intermittently, which makes it hard on employers to manage sick leave benefits.  Pregnancy and child birth are pretty easy to verify (unless you’re Will Schuster on Glee) and plan for, and you know what, they probably deserve greater benefits since the care of a baby is in question in addition to one’s own personal health. Different things should be governed by different laws, right?  The tough part is that because sick leave is so problematic to administer, no one wants to expand it; therefore, as long as family leave is tied to sick leave, its chances of significant expansion are also poor.

2) just kind of reflects how we think about family leave in the States.  But as Julie Suk notes, the fact that our maternity leave rights developed in a gender equality/anti-discrimination context is historically contingent, i.e. it just happened that way.  In Europe, it happened differently: women’s maternity leave rights were valued in their own sake and for the sake of the child.  Okay, forced paternity leave policies are a bit paternalistic (I’m looking at you, France), but it’s not entirely a reflection of Europe’s “socialist” nature – from the beginning, their family leave and sick leave policies were separate, and so developed separately.  Until we move away from thinking of family leave in our traditional light, we’ll probably continue to tie it to sick leave.

I mean, this is fascinating, right?  If you disagree, you can just go watch this video.

Also of note: the perfect conversation filler.

*the title of the post when I was writing that line was “Comparative Family Leave Policy”.  Disgusting, yeah?

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