America: the land of opportunity, fame and unpaid maternity leave

Tanya Zarak a prime example to a twisted practice was fired because she had to go on mat leave to care for her newborn.

Ex-Netflix employee, Tanya Zarak, has become an unfortunate example of US’s lack of maternity leave protection laws after she was reportedly fired after asking for maternity leave.

Netflix has been known to have a “culture of fear,” in which people who are not considered to be “pulling their weight” will be fired. But, if true, these allegations do not only show Netflix’s failure to protect the rights of mothers, it also reminds us of the fact that the US does not protect paid maternity leave.

According to a lawsuit filed by Zarak, her manager Francisco Ramos excluded her from meetings, ignored her and went so far as to remove her from a show she was working on without her knowledge. She further states that at an HR meeting between the two, Ramos was unhappy when she said that after her due date, she would need to take maternity leave to care for her newborn. The day after, her employment was terminated for an unspecified cause.

Zarak is not the only person suffering from this as many people on Twitter complain about their experience being fired due to pregnancy, and claim they are being discriminated against and unfairly replaced because they had or have a newborn to care for.

Other countries have passed laws to protect paid maternity leave. In Canada, for example, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination related to pregnancy, including firing or refusing to hire someone who is or plans to become pregnant. Furthermore, the law states that employers have a legal obligation to provide needs at work for pregnant employees. That law is intended to support women “from fertility treatments” to the “breastfeeding period.” The Canadian government mandates leave and benefits mostly being administered by employment insurance. Paid leave is offered to both parents depending on the hours worked and “employers have to accept the employees back into their jobs under the law, at the end of their leave at the same pay with the same benefits they had before, the employee should have left for maternity leave and come back without consequence.”

In contrast, the US does not have these protective laws in place in most of its states.  In California and New Jersey though, maternity benefits are included as a part of the disability insurance plan to help new mothers monetarily. Furthermore, some employers do offer paid maternity leave to attract qualified employees but that’s where it ends. Meanwhile, in the other 45 states, there are few laws and little to no pay during maternity leave thus resulting in many new mothers having to return to work to support their family just a week or two after childbirth. But job security is protected and you cannot get fired under the law if you qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects the security of a select few pregnant people while they are on leave. But those people will not be paid. If they want to be paid during maternity leave they will need to use unspent vacation or sick leave and sometimes even if they don’t want to use those sorts of times their employer might require them to use these times regardless of if they want to use these times or not.

None of these protective laws are strongly enforced. There are few legal consequences aimed at the manager, and any law enforcement activities such as a disciplinary hearings involve the employee or ex-employee spending money on a lawyer without any guarantee of compensation. In 2017, many Americans were in favour of federal funding for paid mat leave, and a study in that year showed a 50% reduction in child rehospitalization as a direct result of longer maternity leave.

Image credit: flickr/Mon Petit Chou Photography

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