[LTR] The European Union is debating passage of a bill that would create uniform paid maternity leave benefits across all countries in the union. The bill provides for twenty weeks of maternity leave at full pay, plus two weeks of full pay for fathers. Contrast this initiative with how the U.S. handles paid maternity leave benefits: the issue is left up to each state. And only five states have chosen to put a program in place, and it's done as an afterthought.

Paid maternity leave in many European countries is set up as a specific policy: the programs directly address maternity issues in terms of pay replacement, length of paid leave, and even throws in paid parental leave as well. In the U.S. five states have mandated short term disability that just so happens to cover normal pregnancy in addition to covering accidents and illnesses. And each state has varying rules for how the programs replace income, and for how long. Of course there are no mandates in forty five other states. Women have to plan ahead and purchase a private policy, if offered by her employer.

Five States With Paid Leave

The five states with inadvertent paid maternity leave are California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Each of these states has mandatory short term disability for people who work in the state for private employers. The programs are intended to help workers who become disabled temporarily due to an accident or illness. Normal labor and delivery is considered a covered illness and creates maternity pay for women giving birth. Also any time missed due to complications may also be covered.

But even in these states the coverage is lacking. Some states limit the income replacement to 55%, while another cap benefits at $170 per week. That is 17% income replacement for a woman earning $52,000 per year - not an outrageous salary.

Every Working Woman Should Have the Option

Virtually every U.S. family could have a paid maternity leave, or a higher level of income replacement during maternity leave and no legislation needs to be passed. Employers with three or more benefit eligible employees can make a voluntary short term disability option available to workers. Women could pay the premiums themselves and enjoy maternity leave pay, and security in case of complications.

Employers Have a Simple Solution

But most employers don't make this option available. And there simply is no excuse. There is no direct cost to the employers as the employees pay the premiums themselves. The only requirement is for employers to make employees aware of the options, provide education about the value - provided free of charge by the insurance carrier - and forward deducted premiums once a month to the insurer.

Can you believe that is all that stands between U.S. families and paid maternity leave? It sounds pretty hard to believe to me. There needs to be greater awareness. Awareness of the need to begin coverage before getting pregnant, and awareness of how easily employers can make maternity leave pay available. Article by article, blog post by blog post there is one voice trying to help our families and employers at the same time.