The protection of the rights of working mothers was established in the early 20th century, with the emphasis on the mother's right to receive paid leave during the term of her pregnancy and the right to get her job back after having the baby. It has taken many years before the true purpose of this measure has been realized and in the 21st century, maternity leave has become such an integral part of our working lives that it's practically illegal not to be able to offer this benefit to any employee. However, recent legislation allowing for an extended maternity leave, paid up to one year, has companies cringing from its effects on the bottom line. Some argue that when this becomes compulsory, female workers will have a harder time getting a job and a male-dominated work force will see resurgence in the 21st century.
Those who argue for extended maternity leave have these points:
- An extended maternity leave is good for the mother's health. A point raised when maternity leave was first proposed, it anchors on the assumption that a healthier employee is a productive employee. Quite true. Not having to worry about the financial issues of an unpaid maternity leave has positive effects on the mother's psychological well-being as well as that of the child.
- A maternity leave program makes for a principled corporate social advocacy. Beyond bottom line considerations, having a conscience gives the company a good image and attracts the right clients, ultimately lending credence to the company's earnings and good public image among its peers. Corporations pay millions to enhance public image; thus by word of mouth, the company earns its status within its industry.
Those who argue against the extended maternity leave have this to say:
- Maternity leaves cost money. So who pays for it: the government, the employer or both? Because corporations are established with the primary goal of making money, which only then can they make a difference. It is an important consideration that before this is even made to be part of the job offer of any female applicant, the source funds to cover this cost must first be identified.
- The glass ceiling cometh. With so much number crunching going on, there is a mad scramble for prospective employees who can do without a maternity leave: the men. Thus the possibility of the resurgence of the male dominated corporate scene. Iron ladies of the boardroom will have a lot to ponder as opportunities for advancement start to taper, and all this is because a female employee becomes more expensive to maintain than her male counterpart. With the world going through a financial crisis, HR practitioners may have to reinvent the wheel to find a way around the burden of the maternity leave.
Whatever argument you may side with, the extended maternity leave is, indeed, a double-edged sword that brings both the good and bad to the negotiating table, but, for sure, it is here to stay and a must for all businesses.