The country of New Zealand recently expanded its national family paid leave program to include miscarriage or stillbirth, giving couples three days of extra time off.
The move puts New Zealand in a league of its own for the generous benefits, though employers in the country were already required to provide paid leave following a stillbirth if the fetus was lost after 20 weeks or more. Now, a miscarriage at any time constitutes paid leave.
The benefits expansion further distances New Zealand from the United States, which has no national paid leave program, leaving the decision to offer benefits completely up to employers. A big difference between countries that offer generous paid leave benefits and the U.S. is the fundamental consideration of benefits and women in the workforce.
While many nations and most nation peers of the U.S. have paid family leave for giving birth, the U.S. is just beginning to reckon with its poor benefits programs for women and families. In October 2020 a new law, The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, gave federal employees 12 weeks of paid leave. However, no laws mandate paid leave for employees in the private sector or for state governments. Paid leave is extremely popular, with 84% of U.S. voters supporting a paid family leave program, according to a 2018 survey by National Partnership for Women and Families.
U.S. laws are in stark contrast to New Zealand, where employers often are ahead of the federal programs. Even before paid leave was expanded in New Zealand, some companies took it upon themselves to move the bar forward. Xero, an accounting software company based in New Zealand, preeminently changed its leave program to compassionate leave to be more inclusive for parents and for employees with other needs.
“We want our people to feel supported for whatever life throws their way,” Nicole Reid, chief people officer at Xero, told The Whipp. “That is why, in 2018 we reframed our ‘sick leave’ benefit for employees and renamed this ‘wellbeing leave’ - recognizing that our people’s wellbeing can be physical, mental, spiritual or emotional. We want our employees to feel comfortable to take leave to recover from a physical illness, medical procedures or to care for a partner or dependent or even to take time to care for their own personal needs.”
Xero employees have the option to access wellbeing leave, compassionate leave or bereavement leave in the instance of a miscarriage, which doesn’t have to be disclosed. Xero’s philosophy on leave mimics the intentions of New Zealand’s new law.
“I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief,” Ginny Andersen, the Labour member of Parliament who drafted the bill, told The New York Times.
New Zealand is not alone in offering expanded paid leave benefits. Australia also offers paid leave for miscarriage after 12 weeks, and Britain offers benefits for would-be parents who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks, the NY Times reported. Paid leave for miscarriage makes sense, since it is an incredibly common occurrence. In fact, up to 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage, and most occur within 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy in New Zealand, according to the Mayo Clinic and data from the New Zealand College of Midwives, respectively.
As New Zealand moves further ahead in helping women overcome workplace challenges related to pregnancy, it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will turn a corner in offering the bare minimum for families.