By Erin Kane, GCSRW Director of Research and Monitoring
The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations that does not offer guaranteed paid maternity or
The U.S. doesn’t have a federal policy regarding parental leave at all. The closest it has is The Family and
Medical Leave Act of 1993 that gives all public and private sector employees -- of both genders -- whose
employers have 50 or more workers the right to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid family or medical
leave, assuming they meet certain mandated conditions about length of employment. This Act covers
barely half of all workers and less than a fifth of new mothers (page 1).
Looking at individual state policies doesn’t offer much hope, either. Only two states offer paid maternity
leave at the moment: California (Paid Family Leave) and New Jersey (Paid Family Insurance). Each
program is bankrolled on the payroll tax by employees and is available almost universally for their
residents. Washington state also has a program in place, but it has been postponed by funding
difficulties resulting from the recession.
Before California FLP and New Jersey FLI were instated, many employers had concerns about the effect
parental leave would have on their businesses, suggesting it would be too costly and could impede on
profits and productivity. A study on the effects of these policies, released six years later, found that
these concerns were unfounded and in fact many businesses saved money because they didn’t have to
train new hires or pay other employee turnover costs. In addition, providing paid family leave
lengthened the amount of time men took to stay at home with a new child as well as the amount of
time a woman chose to breastfeed her new child (page 29).
The Parental Leave policy for clergy according to the 2012 Book of Discipline (¶356):
Maternity or paternity leave, not to exceed one fourth of a year, will be available and shall be granted
by the bishop and the cabinet, and the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry to any
local pastor, provisional member, associate member, or clergy member in full connection who so
requests it at the birth or arrival of a child into the home for purposes of adoption.
This is a very generous policy by U.S. standards. Maternity leave is becoming more and more available
across both the private and non-profit sectors, but many of these employees don’t take advantage of it.
Many express worry that their employers will retaliate, either by not guaranteeing their positions upon
their return or by finding other reasons to let them go.
These anxieties are also true in The UMC. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women
has fielded multiple phone calls on these very issues. Women may be afraid to take advantage of their
leave if they are at an early stage in their career, serving in a small church or serving as a church’s sole pastor or first woman pastor – conditions not uncommon for women of child-bearing age. What if the
pastor has more than one charge? If the church staff is small, who will be visiting members in the
hospital, planning worship or preaching on Sundays while the pastor is out? Many women are often
unaware about the leaves available to them in the first place, and their church’s staff-parish relations
committee might not have ever dealt with a pastor wanting to take parental leave and might be
resistant; some have commented that they never had to provide such leave for previous (male) pastors.
Paid maternity leave for employees of UMC general agencies was introduced just three years ago. This is
a first positive step forward for our women employees. The women who took advantage of the program
were very grateful for the days they had to bond with their newborn.
The General Agencies of The United Methodist Church maternity leave policy is as follows:
In a month when mothers are honored with flowers, cards, and chocolate, let’s remember that we as a
church can celebrate our new moms with more than nice gestures by providing them the systemic
support they need to care for their families.
Father’s day is also fast approaching. Let’s continue to support new fathers in June by encouraging them
to take advantage of the parental leave policies available to them.
If you want to respond to these discussion questions, or if you have an idea for an article or research,
email Erin Kane, our director of research and monitoring.