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4 states have paid parental leave, but employees aren't using it
More states than ever have mandated paid family leave, but a lot of employees still aren't taking it. There's a cultural shift that has to take place before it will become common practice. - photo by Sam Turner
Research shows that paid parental leave can have significant benefits for all parties involved. So why aren't more people using it?

According to Business Insider, offering paid leave increases employee morale and retention, makes healthier babies, and reduces burden on the state. In New Jersey, women who received paid maternity leave were 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps.

With Rhode Island's legislation in 2013, the number of states to legislate some paid parental leave now totals four.

Rhode Island, along with the other states California, New Jersey and Washington offer leave in case of serious medical conditions, to care for an ill family member, or for mothers and fathers to bond with a new child. The states offer between four and six weeks of leave at a partial pay rate, varying from 55 percent to 66 percent and bearing a weekly maximum. The program is actually paid for by employees in the form of a payroll tax.

In addition, many companies are choosing to offer paid family leave on their own. Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Netflix have recently added or expanded their paternal leave policies. According to Business Insider, 12 percent of American companies offer some form of paid parental leave.

But having access to paid leave doesn't mean people are using it, says a study reported in Forbes.

California was the first state to legislate paid parental leave, requiring that employers provide six weeks at 55 percent salary. But only 25 percent to 40 percent of eligible mothers use their leave, shows a study from the Center for Poverty Research.

There are many possible reasons why people are not taking leave, but experts have identified three main ones.

People are afraid to lose their jobs

This seems counterintuitive to the spirit of parental leave, but discrepancies between state and federal government law means choosing between paid leave and unemployment for some.

Forbes notes that all California employees are eligible for paid leave, but only some are guaranteed job protection through the Family Medical Leave Act.

The FMLA insures job security for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth and other medical situations; however, only people who work at least 1,250 hours per year at businesses with at least 50 employees are covered by this law.

This means that many people who work part-time or work for small businesses (over half of Americans work for small businesses) may risk losing their job by accepting paid leave.

Negative career outcomes

Even if your job is protected by the FMLA, many Americans feel that taking time off for a baby will hurt their chances for advancement and pay raises.

After the FMLA was passed in 1993, women became 5 percent more likely to keep their job, but 8 percent less likely to be promoted, reports the New York Times.

Men who request parental leave are punished during performance reviews and women are seen as less committed to the job, says the New York Times.

But this effect can be worse where there are no family friendly laws like the FMLA, reports the Atlantic.

A study by Shelley Correll of Stanford University shows that the absence of family leave laws causes employers to view women who take leave as less competent, less committed and less promotable. Additionally, they were offered smaller raises than women with no children.

Workers may also feel pressure to limit parental leave to avoid laying an additional burden on their co-workers. Regardless of policy, office culture can get new parents back to work faster than they would like.

Lack of awareness

A lot of people don't take parental leave simply because they are unaware of their rights.

In California, 12 years after the state enacted its Paid Parental Leave program, only 36 percent of people knew anything about the program, reports

Only 21 percent of Californians age 18-29 were aware of the law, meaning the demographic most likely to need paid parental leave is also the least aware. Other groups with a low level of awareness included Latinos, less-educated persons and lower-income persons.

According to, California authorized $6.5 million in supplemental funding to raise awareness about the Paid Family Leave program between 2014 and 2016.
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